When we were invited, last year, to view a Missal dating from the 13th and 14th century, and now in local private ownership, it sparked off a unique event which came to fruition on Friday 15th April.
The magnificent book from northern Italy, showing signs of many years of daily use by monks who would have sung the chants during communion, requiem masses and while processing. Several of the vellum pages include exquisitely detailed illustrations in brilliant lapis lazuli, gold and other bright colours, linked with the texts, in addition to numerous illustrated capitals and even some tiny comic faces included by the scribes.
The Missal was displayed, before the concert, during the interval, and for half-an-hour afterwards, to a fascinated audience.
The concert itself began in total silence until we heard the distant chanting of nuns and monks, gradually approaching in procession.
After the immaculate unison of the chant, the singers leapt across the centuries to Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices and a Motet by his contemporary Tallis. Philip Arkwright, Director of Music at Buckfast Abbey, drew from the eight singers a beautifully integrated sound, and the most delicate musical shaping of the counterpoint.
The second half crossed the centuries again, to Mozart motets, a set of organ Variations by Franz Tunder played, with astonishing inventiveness by David Davies, and Haydn’s so-called ‘Little Organ Mass’. It completed a 500-year musical, theological and historical overview of the complex relationship between music and Christian liturgy – a unique experience for the audience which packed the James Wyatt Music Room to its limits.