The Choir of St John’s College release world premiere recording of specially commissioned work by Michael Finnissy

"This is extremely beautiful music - rich, deep, full of colours, emotions and allusions. The music requires time to marinade in the listener’s mind"

An album of music inspired by the architecture of the iconic chapel at St John's College will be released by The Choir of St John's in August. 

The world premiere recording of Michael Finnissy’s Pious Anthems & Voluntaries captures the composition of his nine-part cycle, which was commissioned by the Choir and written over a three-year period.

Michael Finnissy is the Composer in Residence at St John's and was also commissioned by Andrew Nethsingha in 2014 to write a piece of music for the Advent service; his piece John the Baptist was performed by the Choir that year. 

St John’s College has a distinguished tradition of religious music and, since the 1670s, has possessed a world-famous College Choir, whose main duty is singing the daily services (Tuesday to Sunday) in the College Chapel during the University Term.

Premieres of the individual Finnissy pieces by the choir took place in intervals from May 2017 in the Chapel of St John’s, and in June 2019 the choir premiered the entire cycle to celebrate 150 years since the Chapel’s consecration.

The Choir singing
Members of the choir recording. Credit: James Proctor

The nine works of Finnissy’s cycle are closely intertwined with the architecture of St John’s College Chapel. The works, which see the use of solo flute and violin alongside organ and choir, reflect this architectural layering, with some of the pieces based on 16th century Responds and Votive Antiphons, which had been built upon plainsong melodies from the centuries before. Finnissy said of the Chapel, “It is so special for its windows; your gaze freewheels from one to another - and this cycle of works is like that.”

Pious Anthems and Voluntaries (Finnissy)

Since becoming Director of Music of the Choir in 2007, Nethsingha has commissioned more than 50 pieces of new music from both leading composers and St John's students, and started the Choir’s annual tradition of commissioning new music for their famed Advent services.

Andrew Nethsingha describes an innovation in Finnissy’s writing that is not often heard within church walls. He said, “This is extremely beautiful music - rich, deep, full of colours, emotions and allusions. The music requires time to marinade in the listener’s mind. It has been fascinating to observe the cycle’s evolution, to develop a deep relationship with one composer and to gain an insight into his compositional processes. We are privileged to have had Michael as the College’s Composer in Residence for the past three years.”

Pious Anthems & Voluntaries is available from 14 August on Signum Records.

Published: 30/07/2020

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