Judith Weir at Hampton Court Palace

Judith Weir at Hampton Court Palace
This autumn, the 500th anniversary celebrations at Hampton Court Palace will culminate in the world-premiere of a new composition by Judith Weir. The anthem, Praise Him with Trumpets, which will be heard for the first time during a service of thanksgiving in the palace’s historic Chapel Royal on November 16, will be performed by the Hampton Court Palace Chapel Royal Choir. It will be Judith Weir’s first major commission since becoming Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014.

Jointly commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces and the Choral Foundation, the piece will be a celebration of the palace’s long musical tradition. Music has been performed in the Chapel Royal since Cardinal Wolsey’s tenure at the palace began in 1515, and works by some of Britain’s greatest composers have been performed there ever since. Weir will be following in the footsteps of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, who wrote sacred music for the Tudors monarchs, Henry Purcell, who composed Baroque masterpieces for the Stuarts, and George Friedrich Handel, favoured composer of the Hanoverian Kings.

The celebratory piece will be conducted by the Chapel Royal’s Music Director Carl Jackson, and accompanied by organist Rufus Frowde, and trumpeters Max Bronstein and Ryan Linham. The service will be conducted by the newly appointed Chaplain, Reverend Anthony Howe.

Judith Weir, comments:
Being asked to write a new work for the Choir of the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace is an honour but also a historically daunting task. It was here that the Anglican Church came about, with its unparalleled liturgy and its great composers, including Byrd, Tallis, Morley, Gibbons and Purcell who actually worked as singers and organists in this building. The Chapel itself, with its severe seating but starry blue roof is also an ecclesiastical building like no other.

Speaking to Music Director Carl Jackson and others at Hampton Court about the new work, it seemed that there could be two completely different ways to go; either to write a simple, spiritual anthem which would fit into the everyday liturgical tradition of the Church of England; or to mark the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court Palace in a bright, lively way.

Then, as a pleasant surprise, a list of suggestions arrived from the boy choristers – “majestic and royal, full of forte and life”; “trumpets and trombones please, big and grand’; “something big and important that I will really look forward to singing again and again”. Several of them directed me to the biblical Psalms, a helpful reminder that these great poems contain express almost every mood and emotion.

Eventually I settled on two Psalm texts, 146 and 150. Psalm 146 is thoughtful and compassionate ; “The Lord feeds the hungry, and sets the Prisoner free”. It also includes the line “Put no faith in princes ”which I thought significant for a building founded by King Henry VIII. My composition begins with this Psalm, in a reflective atmosphere; but becomes progressively taken over by quotations from Psalm 150, which is celebratory and often mentions the loud musical instruments the choristers had in mind.

I have combined the two Psalm texts so that their two moods, thoughtful and celebratory, intertwine with each other. As well as choir and organ, there are two trumpet parts which sound a bright introduction to the music and reappear later at important moments. It is also envisaged that in the future, even if trumpets are not available, these parts could be played on the organ; thus making this, I hope, an ‘everyday’ as well as ‘celebratory’ anthem. The new composition lasts about five minutes.

Deborah Shaw, Head of Creative Programming at Historic Royal Palaces, said:
‘We’re thrilled that Judith has agreed to work with us to mark this momentous anniversary with a new composition, celebrating the musical, as well as the religious tradition that the Chapel Royal represents, right at the heart of Hampton Court Palace.’

Michele Price, Director of Development of the Choral Foundation, which preserves and promotes the unique heritage of English choral music at the Chapel Royal, says of the event:
'Works composed for the Hampton Court Chapel Royal have influenced choral music around the globe for 500 years. The world premiere of the new anthem marks another chapter in its glorious history, building on its rich tradition and allowing its prominent voice to echo round the world, long into the future.'

Read Judith's blog posts about Hampton Court and their Chapel Royal Open Day.

To mark the BBC Children in Need appeal for 2015, Judith Weir has donated an the original manuscript for Praise Him with Trumpets to be auctioned online. All the money raised by the auction will go towards helping some of the most disadvantaged children in the UK. Judith’s manuscript is of this commissioned piece. She says: "I’m donating this original manuscript sketch to the Radio 3 auction for BBC Children in Need 2015. It’s a piece I wrote for the Chapel Royal Choir, Hampton Court to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court Palace. It will receive its first performance on Monday November 16 (i.e. the Monday after the BBC Children in Need Appeal). It is a loud, energetic piece scored for choir, organ and two trumpets. The pages have a lot of crazy handwriting and coloured pen; maybe the auction winner might like to stick a page or two up on the wall."

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