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Music at Services at the Cathedral of St.Machar for Advent and Christmas 2020

Choral Music

The Cathedral’s thriving choir, which includes Choral Scholars, usually sings at the Sunday morning Service. It has an extensive repertoire, ranging from medieval plainchant to pieces which have been written in the twenty first century. Presently there are three pieces of music which have been commissioned to help mark the 500th. anniversary of the unique ceiling – which will be performed when Covid restrictions are lifted.  

Because of the restrictions of the Covid 19 pandemic, we are not permitted to have any singing in the Cathedral at the moment. So the place where the Anthem usually comes in the Service, will be replaced by organ music, and the same will be the case after the Sermon.

While we are not allowed to sing together during this extraordinary time, the choir continues meets weekly via Zoom, and if there are any potential new members, please don’t hesitate to contact the Music Director (rogerbevanwilliams@g.mail.com)


The Organ

The present organ is not the first one there has been in the Cathedral. Because of the lack of evidence, it is difficult to be certain what sort of instrument there might have been before the Reformation. But if St. Machar’s was as many other similar buildings, both in Scotland and elsewhere, there would have been an organ most probably of some considerable size, fixed to the building. According to the distinguished historian Leslie Macfarlane, we learn of two organ books in the Inventory of 1436 – which lends further credence to the presence of an organ in pre-Reformation times.  At the turn of the sixteenth century, during the time when William Elphinstone was Bishop, it seems likely that such an organ would have been a large instrument, sited possibly in the Choir or in one of the Transepts.  Given that Bishop Elphinstone had come to Aberdeen after living in both Paris and Louvain, it seems very probable that the instrument would have been as splendid as the Bishop’s enlarged foundation of Vicars Choral. This organ would most probably have been built on medieval Blockwerk principles, with loud and magnificent sounds, and would have been played on Sundays and major feast days.

The organ in use today is a splendid example of a romantic instrument built by ‘Father’ Willis.  It has three manuals and pedals and was originally built in 1891 with a third manual added in 1898. The organ was at first sited in front of the east window, but was moved to its present position in 1928, at which time some tonal additions were made. In 1973 there was a rebuild, with some further tonal modifications, carried out by the firm of Noel Mander of London.  The three ranks of Willis pipes that were at that time taken off and kept in storage, were brought back onto the Choir organ in July 2018, with assistance from the Bach Choir. This most recent work has restored some of the quieter sounds that the organ originally possessed.  The organ has a rich resonance and a variety of tonal sound that was characteristic of this most celebrated of Victorian organ builders.

In recent times, since the first Organist, Sydney Townsend, was appointed in 1891, there have been only nine Organists, including some very eminent figures. These include George C. Dawson (1893-1916), Arthur Pirie (1916-1920), Marshall Gilchrist (1920-1938), John B. Dalby (1938-54), David Murray (1954-81), and James Lobban (1981-2006), after which Mike Thomson held the post until 2016.

The repertoire of organ music to be heard during these seasons of Advent and Christmas this year, will be based around the collection of Chorale Preludes titled Orgelbüchlein by J.S.Bach. These pieces will be contrasted by Chorale Preludes from other composers: Bach’s inspired tutor, Dietrich Buxtehude, French composer Marcel Dupré and Jeanne Demessieux, and several pieces will be heard from the O Antiphon Sequence  published in 2018, British composer Cecilia McDowall.

Sunday November 29th.

Introit: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland BWV 599  J.S.Bach(1685-1750)

Musical Interlude: O Emmanuel:    Cecilia McDowall(b.1951)

Music for contemplation: Come now, Saviour  M.Dupré(1886-1971)

Recessional: Prelude and Fugue in C (Eight short)  attrib. J.S.Bach

Sunday December 7th.

Introit: Gottes Sohn ist kommen, BWV 600   J.S.Bach(1685-1750)

Musical Interlude: O Radix Jesse    Cecilia McDowall(b.1951)

 Music for contemplation: The Son of God is come  M.Dupre(1886-1971)

Recessional: Sleeper’s Wake!     F.B.Mendelssohn(1809-47)

Sunday December 14th.

Introit: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland:   D.Buxtehude|(1637-1707)

Musical Interlude: Rorate caeli    J.Demessieux(1921-68)

Music for contemplation: Christ my Lord    M.Dupré(1886-1971)

Recessional: Herr Chrst, der ein’ge Gotte-Sohn, BWV601 J.S.Bach(1685-1750)

Sunday December 21st.

Introit: Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott BWV602  J.S.Bach(1685-1750)

Musical Interlude: O Sapientia    Cecilia McDowall(b.1951)

Music for contemplation: Awake! Hear the call  M.Dupré(1886-1971)

Recessional: O Clavis David     Cecilia McDowall(b.1951)

Christmas Eve – December 24th.

Introit: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland BWV659  J.S.Bach(1685-1750)

 Es ist ein Ros’ entsrungen    J.Brahms(1833-97)

Recessional: Fantasia: In Dulci Jubilo BWV729  J.S.Bach

Christmas Day – December 25th.

Introit: In Dulci Jubilo:     D.Buxtehude(1637-1707)

Musical Interlude: In Dulci Jubilo    Flor Peeters(1903-86)

Music for contemplation: In quiet joy   M.Dupré(1886-1971)

Recessional: Vom Himmel hoch BWV738   J.S.Bach(1685-1750)

Sunday after Christmas – December 28th.

Introit: Puer natus, BWV703     J.S.Bach(16I5-1750)

Musical Interlude: O Oriens     Cecilia McDowall(b.1951)

Music for contemplation: Gelobet seist du, BWV604 J.S.Bach

Director of Music and Organist - Dr. Roger B.Williams, M.B.E.