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Philip

Stainer - The Crucifixion

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A search in the top right corner will reveal at least two threads with a similar title already exist on this forum, but please bear with me...in those threads the merits or otherwise of both music and words have been debated, and I'm familiar with the arguments, so I intend to pose a different question, particularly as many of those reading this have doubtless accompanied the work in the past.

 

Our choir will be performing 'The Crucifixion' in April with our colleagues from the Methodist Church and so I'm starting to think about the accompaniment. As with any piece, I'm eager to make this as colourful as possible, and there are clearly plenty of opportunities to do this. The score provides some suggestions, but I'm keen to hear of extra melodies you like to bring out, moments to emphasise or registration combinations you like to utilise. In particular, markings in the score appear periodically to indicate senza pedal or con pedal. This seems to my reading to leave quite a lot of the work, especially the solo passages, played on manuals only - do you follow this or adapt it to suit? I'm presuming such markings are Stainer's and not later editorial additions.

 

For practical information, my instrument is a well-stocked two manual (39 stops) with a full complement of generals, divisionals, stepper and plenty of memories, which I plan to utilise to the full and wish to start setting shortly!

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I too will be very interested in hearing any responses regarding this as I will be accompanying a performance of it too, however on a not-so-well stocked organ (1970s squawker with no reeds and a less than useful Larigot...)

 

Josh

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One way to get some registration/accompanimental ideas from the professionals might be simply to listen to their own renditions. I've just had a quick scan of the previous posts on this topic, and a well-regarded recording seemed to be the 2 CD set of The Crucifixion and Olivet to Calvary done by Barry Rose at Guildford. (Note - the 'well-regarded' adjective does not necessarily refer to the quality of the works themselves, only the interpretations!).

 

The recordings are somewhat elderly (performed 1965 and 1969, remastered 1990 and 1993 and reissued in 2002). They are incomplete in some respects, for example not all of Stainer's hymns are included. However I bought this CD set myself a year or two ago for only a few GBP, brand new from Amazon UK. Terrific value and it's always good to dip into either work around Easter (IMHO). The recording is still around, and as of today it is still available on Amazon and ebay. So if anyone is interested, details are:

 

Title: Stainer - The Crucifixion / Maunder - Olivet to Calvary. Choir of Guildford Cathedral (Barry Rose)

Issued by: Classics for Pleasure, EMI Records 2002, 7243 5 75779 2 2

 

If you want it, maybe act fast as this is obviously the time of year when the existing shelf stock will evaporate quickly!

 

Best wishes for your various performances.

 

CEP

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I don't have a copy of the score to hand at the moment, but I recall that, as Philip says, it is very vague about where (and whether) the use of the pedals is expected. Examples are the first page, where there is no indication of whether 16' tone is expected for the bass of the organ part, and the duet So thou liftest thy divine petition, where occasional 'ped' and 'soft ped' indications appear but with no directions for other passages to be played manuals only.

We know that Stainer intended the work to be within the reach of parish churches with modest resources, so I wonder if he was deliberately vague with these indications so that players could make their own choice whether or not to use pedal, according to their pedal technique and the instrument being played.

I would be inclined to try various passages with and without pedal (or more specifically, with or without 16' tone in the bass) and decide which works best on the instrument you are playing, and gives a suitable balance with the choir. It's difficult to give more specific suggestions without knowing what the organ sounds like in the building, and how large and well-balanced the choir will be when you accompany them.

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I once accompanied Stainer's The Crucifixion on this chamber organ! The only little trick that I used was to wedge the bottom F with a biro for the pedal point at the end of King Ever Glorious (the big tenor aria, I've forgotten its name!). This means that you can play the chords with two hands, giving it plenty of oomph! It was a huge advantage that this organ is enclosed.

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Thanks for the replies so far.

 

As for recordings - I've done this (partially) already, and own the Guildford/Barry Rose double set that is described. I did have a listen to it last night, and there are certainly plenty of hints in there, along with moments where the pedal seemed to be used where it wasn't indicated, so perhaps Nick is right. I think I'll probably peruse Spotify as well for some further interpretations.

 

On a more general point, I guess this brings the argument about whether one should stick slavishly to the markings in an attempt to follow the composer's intentions, or whether it might be prudent to adapt in places. I suppose the former is preferable, but adaptation may be necessary where resources/situations dictate. As Nick says, Stainer may have been more simplistic than he needed to by intention.

 

I can't say I'd much fancy playing it on a Chamber Organ though! But I agree on the 'King ever glorious' solo, one of the most powerful movements (with the right tenor singing!) and I think it is prudent for the organ to crescendo once the voice has dropped out so that the movement finishes on something near full organ. The Guildford recording has a 32' reed underneath it for most of the last page - this is fine if you can balance with your soloist, and if your organ actually possesses one!

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Although many are 'sniffy' about The Crucifixion (as I was), it was not until I conducted it that I was able to see/hear its many compositional qualities and deep sense of devotion. Similarly, when I sang his anthem I Saw The Lord and was struck by its power.

 

Stainer was organist at Tenbury (at 16), Magdalen, then St Paul's- where he was deputising when only 15 and whose 1872 Father Willis he was said to have designed. These all had four manuals.

 

I believe, were he to have accompanied this on such an instrument, he would have availed himself of the complete range of possibilities and not restricted himself to the performing 'instructions' for amateurs.

 

Therefore, treat the "suggestions" in the score as Cruci-fiction, and . . . Go for it, Philip !

 

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I think the New Novello edition of this has rather more in the way of pedal markings than the old Novello. I don't have a copy to hand to check, but I suspect that many of them are editorial suggestions. If they are (perhaps indicated by square brackets), then feel free to disregard according to preference...

NB Bravo to Novello for retaining the old pagination so that the new and old scores can be used together.

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If anyone feels that an enhanced knowledge of a composer's life and personality helps in developing a deeper understanding of their works, I might suggest they reach for the biography of Stainer by Peter Charlton ("John Stainer and the Musical Life of Victorian Britain", David and Charles, 1984 ISBN 0 7153 8387 6). Dr Charlton's book is in fact a published version of his doctoral thesis, and its fascination and enjoyable style are not unrelated to the fact that not many theses of my acquaintance attract the interest of more than a few unusually determined readers, let alone that of a publisher.

 

Until I came across this book I was unaware of just what a thoroughly kind and modest man Stainer was, as well as the energy with which he threw himself into his work and life more generally until his sudden and untimely death at the age of only 60. Suffice it to say here that Charlton deals with 'The Crucifixion' in considerable detail.

 

CEP

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In a couple of months I am to have the joy of accompanying The Crucifixion on a modest, two-manual Peter Collins. That's going to be interesting! :D

 

Regarding performance, I am quite sure that organists of Stainer's time didn't bother to get too hung up on a composer's exact wishes.

 

I don't know Charlton's book, but, as an alternative, I have read, and can thoroughly recommend, Jeremy Dibble's John Stainer: A Life in Music (2007). Stainer comes over exactly as Colin states.

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Mmm... and you can buy the Charlton on Amazon. New, it's £76, or several people are offering a second hand one for 90p!!! I've ordered one of those! The Dibble seems to be £47 new, and at the moment, I can't spot a cheaper option, but thanks to Vox's enthusiastic endorsement, I shall keep looking!

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I got to know 'The Crucifixion' from the St. John's LP and was impressed by it. I later acquired the Peterborough version too - I think this may have been on a transfer to CD, in which case I still have it (I gave away all my LPs when I moved to Newfoundland - something had to go!). Oddly enough, the Stainer LP doesn't appear to be mentioned in the discography of George Guest's "A Guest at Cambrdige".

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Oddly enough, the Stainer LP doesn't appear to be mentioned in the discography of George Guest's "A Guest at Cambrdige".

It's listed third in the discography.

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Well, the performance was last night, and everyone was very complimentary about the organ playing, which was nice, including comments on the variety of colours used (as said above, a well-stocked organ and plentiful registration aids helps). I hope Stainer would have approved!

 

One thing that struck me was how much people appreciated it. The singing wasn't perfect by any means, although we were blessed with good soloists, and the choir certainly got into the spirit of the piece, but many people commented on how moving they found it and what a wonderful performance it was. Many unkind things have been written about The Crucifixion, but it certainly has an appeal to the people in the pews (or chairs, in our case!).

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I played the Crucifixion on the 13th, luckily not on the neo-baroque sqwarker that I thought might be used at first. Instead it was a 1960s Vermuellen (or Verschuren, I'm not sure which) with upside down draw stop layout, Gt & Sw all on the treble end, four blind thumb pistons plus cancels which don't move the draw stops and a Swell pedal which you only had to move your foot in its general direction and it would move... At least it did have some reeds.

 

Performance was very good however and there were some very good comments afterwards.

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Today, as I was practising for a performance of this work on Good Friday, I realised how such oft-derided stops such as the Dulciana could come into their own in certain passages, or even other quiet narrow-scaled flue stops like the Keraulophon. Any thoughts on this?

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Yes - I think half of the fun of playing the Crucifixion these days is utilising just these 'non run-of-the-mill' stops. We did it last year at Nantwich and time spent registrating it beforehand was enjoyable and appreciated by singers and audience alike. Comments like 'we've never heard it make those sounds' before, were intensely satisfying. It was a good performance as well.

 

On a side issue, Maunder's 'Olivet to Calvary' seems to be THE thing to perform in Cheshire just at the moment'

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I accompanied this work this time last year on this instrument. The Swell 8ft tone coupled to the Great Dulciana was a combination I used frequently. The variety of 8ft tone on the Great was also invaluable. The lack of registration aids/registrant however was slightly more problematic!

VA

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Bernard Edmonds described what he called a Road to Damascus Moment when he realised that, although composition pedals on this sort of organ tend give you an unsubtle wodge of stops, you can then push in one or two, thereby gaining a range of decent combinations. Pushing in stops, as he pointed out, is easier than pulling them out, especially with flat jambs and large stop knobs. I think he was right.

 

I played Karg Elert's 'Tenebrae' from Bernard's copy this week. It's nice to have these little mementoes of friends and mentors.

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Unusually, perhaps, for a Roman Catholic choir, we have sung The Crucifixion half a dozen times over the last ten years or so. On each occasion it has attracted a nearly-full church to hear it, and every time it has resulted in a lot of comment about how moving the work is (a commendation for the composer more than the choir and soloists I think). The choir sings from it's liturgical position up in the west gallery rather than concert-style at the front of the church I produce a little programme for those attending, and ask that they wait for the music in silence, join in the hymns, and, afterwards, offer no 'applause' whatsoever; stay a while in the church, and leave in silence. The lights are dimmed enough to read the words of the hymns, and no more. During the work I arrange the projection of a series of appropriate images (artists' representations of the Passion, Stations of the Cross etc.) onto a screen at the front of the church to illustrate the words. Each time I have done this, the absolute, complete and utter silence at the end has been as moving as the music (both for me, and for those attending).

I am lucky to have a sensitive organist who is an excellent accompanist to the choir (something, in my experience, that is huge good fortune in amateur circles). However the accompaniment might be approached on a particular instrument, it is the 'ability to accompany' that so often makes or breaks a performance; something that those of you (most of you?!) who move in higher circles than I often, understandably perhaps, take for granted. Stainer's genius (my opinion) was in writing so much approachable music that falls both within the abilities of the amateur parish choir and the appeal of those who listen to his music. His Bb Mag and Nunc is another excellent example.... I am Alpha and Omega.......

As an aside, having Stainer's The Daughter of Jairus in the repertoire and St. Mary Magdalen on the way, I would encourage people in amateur positions to look at Stainer's music beyond The Crucifixion. (Gideon? Not published, but perhaps..... one day!!)

Tony

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