I am somewhat busy with music collecting at the moment, with a stereo unit upstairs in the study and feet unavoidably on wires. But I did manage to get away to see the appropriate last part of Simon Russell Beale's Sacred Music, one of those good programmes on at the moment. It uses Harry Christophers, Conductor of The Sixteen, and the fourth and final episode looked at composers James MacMillan, John Rutter and John Tavener. James MacMillan is a Roman Catholic and choirmaster in Scotland, and composes as a matter of his faith, holding much to sacred musical tradition, and so does John Tavener, who became Orthodox in 1977 and in 2004 reached out with his Orthodoxy eastwards especially with a piece called Shunya. John Tavener looked ill, as is reported. What made me chuckle was all about John Rutter, that he pumps out so much material, is associated with Anglicanism, and yet is agnostic. It's like it speaks volumes. So when he composes, he is like an actor, he stated, and gets in character. He promotes the heritage of the music rather than that music being directly his expression of the sacred.
Then, of course, we might ask, "What difference does it make?" After all, artifice may be a more accurate reflection of the day. My first and positive encounter with Rutter, that I looked up (a sort of, "What was that?") was at the University of Essex Chaplaincy back in 1982. I now have one John Rutter CD, but select pieces from it for use. They are well received. But there is always the sense that most of his output is like classical music played on BBC Radio 4 rather than (or only occasionally on) BBC Radio 3 (with the notable exception of his Hymn to the Creator of Light). In the programme he does admit influence into the back of his mind from the pop world. He puts out a good tune and can hit the right buttons. It connects. Let's face it, too, that much of Anglicanism is dumping music of any sacred value.
I have nothing by James MacMillan, but have the main 'Orthodox' pieces by John Tavener on a number of CDs. They are difficult to hear when you have tinnitus, as I have. On one of the most expensive, I took one and increased its levels as a computer file, and then could hear traffic in the background! Is that why the levels do not peak fully on the actual CD? After all, if they don't use the levels available, all we do is put the volume up and it is better if the levels are correct that you don't then fiddle with the knob.
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