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  Make We Joy

Choir of the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London


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It is something of a challenge to compile a "Christmas" recording of carols and anthems which presents not just traditional Christmas hymns, well-known and ought-to-be-better-known carols, but which captures more than a fragment of the spirit of a place and its musicians. In attempting to rise to this challenge, we present a progression through the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany up to Candlemas of music representative of that which is heard in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula at services and concerts during this period. Each of the three seasons begins with a well-known hymn and is followed by carols and anthems for that season. There are arrangements of folk songs and traditional tunes: The truth from above is an arrangement of an English folk song from Vaughan Willams's Fantasia on Christmas Carols; Sussex carol and Wassail song are arrangements of traditional English carols; Noël Nouvelet is a French tune arranged by Stephen Jackson specially for the choir at The Tower. The solo songs Cradle Song and Out of the Orient crystal skies, a consort song originally scored for viol accompaniment, share the same composer, William Byrd, perhaps the most famous of the composers for the Chapel Royal. Carols by 20th century composers include the macaronic Make we joy now in this fest by William Walton and the carol-anthem Long, long ago by Herbert Howells. We have also chosen the first three movements from Mendelssohn's unfinished oratorio Christus, as well as carols by Praetorius and Poulenc.

The Choir of the Chapel's Royal, HM Tower of London

The word 'chapel' is derived from the term for the cloaks, cappella, which were worn by the chaplains (cappellani) of the French court on their frequent journeys. Just as the mediĉval kings of France took their chaplains with them, so did the kings of England. In its original sense, therefore, the term 'Chapel Royal' applied to everything needed by a devout sovereign for divine worship: clergy, choir, books, relics, vestments and plate. Efforts to consolidate political power in the Middle Ages meant that the whole court travelled widely and services were celebrated for the sovereign both in private and with great ceremony in public. A notable appearance of the Chapel Royal was with Henry VIII's court at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.

The number of choir & clergy at the Chapel Royal has fluctuated throughout history, according to political necessity and the personal inclinations of the sovereign. Their duties have changed too, but it is clear from the names of the musicians who worked there that performance and composition of the highest standard have been a single constant.

By the 18th century this itinerant royal band had found a final home and one building, the chapel at St. James's Palace, came to be served by the establishment of the Chapel Royal. Other chapels in the royal palaces of Hampton Court and the Tower of London continued to hold services but without the use of the choir and clergy of this Chapel Royal. They nevertheless shared, and continue to share, their special status in the ecclesiastical establishment. The Chapels Royal fall under the jurisdiction of the Dean of the Chapels Royal (currently the Bishop of London), the Lord Chamberlain and, ultimately, the Sovereign. From the early days of the Chapel Royal, musical excellence was a high priority. The musical history of the Chapel Royal is impressive indeed, proving the crown of England to be an exceptional patron of music, rivalled only by the Vatican. The Choir of the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London is part of this heritage. However, it is likely that for a long time music in the chapels within the Tower of London was only as good as many other parish churches in London. For a short time from 1871-1885, music for services was led by Mary Rose Milman, the wife of the resident major, with the children of the parish singing while she played the organ.

In 1966 provision was made for the establishment of a professional choir to provide music of the highest standard for the two Chapels Royal in the Tower and in the choir's short recent history it has established an enviable reputation for excellence. Some of the UK's most eminent musicians, including Felicity Palmer CBE and Sir Andrew Davis began their careers here and the composers Herbert Howells, Stephen Jackson and James MacMillan have written music specifically for it.

Today the choir maintains this recent tradition and comprises professional singers who perform with some of the most distinguished consorts and opera companies in the UK and abroad. This choir of 10 maintains a long-established tradition of consort singing achieving an exemplary standard of music-making across a wide repertory, with a special emphasis on music written for the Chapel Royal itself. The choir has made a number of recordings, has broadcast for Radio 3 & Classic FM and is occasionally augmented when larger forces are required.

The organ in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula

A great fire destroyed all of Whitehall Palace in 1698 except Inigo Jones' Banqueting House. The court moved to St. James's Palace and Sir Christopher Wren turned the Banqueting House into a Chapel Royal, installing a new organ made by the famous 'Father Smith' (Bernhard Schmidt), who had been 'Organ-Maker in Ordinary' to King Charles II. When the Banqueting House was turned into a military museum in 1890, and on Queen Victoria's instructions, the organ was installed in St. Peter's Chapel in the Tower. Most of the original instrument had already been removed and the organ was enlarged to accommodate a pedal division. The case of this instrument is a very fine example of its type, dating from 1699, with carving attributed to the master-craftsman of his age, Grinling Gibbons. 300 years later the case was refurbished and restored to capture its original elegance and now houses a new instrument built by the Canadian firm Orgues Létourneau.

Stephen Tilton



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