Sunday, January 24, 2010

Choral Evensong

 I wonder how many people, like me, enjoy Anglican cathedral music but have never been to a service? I’m not really a church-going type of Christian. When I was a child I had to go to a church where an old man pounded his fist, stomped his feet and screamed that we were all going to burn in Hell forever. I used to hide under my mother’s arm and cry. My later experiences did little to let me see church as a ‘feel good’ experience so I drifted away from organized religion and developed my own ideas and moral code.

Now, Sunday mornings usually find me praying to Saint Mattress, but if there was a cathedral with a boys choir near here I would certainly attend Evensong services. I suppose it‘s okay to go just to hear the singing.
It would be good to know what the services are about, though, so in case I ever get there I decided to learn something about Evensong services.

For a great many of us Evensong has not been a part of our experience so I would like to say a little about it in case others may be curious too. My research source is the internet, not direct experience, so Anglicans may laugh if I goof anything up.

Evening prayer is celebrated in the late afternoon or evening and is commonly known as Evensong, especially when it is sung. The Catholics have something similar called Vespers.
The service usually, but not always, consists of these elements:
An introduction, including a confession and the Lord’s Prayer.
Preces - a series of verses and responses
One or more Psalms
Two readings from the Bible followed by the Magnificat (Latin for Magnify, Stanford’s Magnificate in G is my favorite) and Nunc Dimittis (also called the Song of Simeon from Luke 2:29–32, named after its first words in Latin. It starts out, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace according to your word.”)
Then the Apostles Creed, a chant which starts “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”
Then several prayers and responses, an anthem and some spoken prayers.
One thing you will hear often in Evensong is the Gloria Patri, that verse that says, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” I hear that on a lot of the Anglican hymns that I have.

I picked up a CD titled Choral Evensong From Tewkesbury Abbey that I like. When it was announced that the Abbey School would close, they decided that a CD should be recorded of the Evensong service which the choir had sung four times a week for the last thirty two years. I recommend ear phones for this one in order to have a more intimate experience.

The service opens with Howells’ Master Tallis’s Testament, a truly great organ piece, and then Sancte Deus by Tallis.
Psalm 91 by Alcock and Psalm 131 by Peterson are followed by Gabriel Jackson’s Magnificat and his Nunc Dimittis which are both stunning.
The hymn is The Day Thou Gavest by St. Clement, Descant: John Scott.

It goes without saying that the singing is magnificent all the way through this CD. There is a list of choristers in the liner notes and near the bottom of the trebles is Andrew Swait.


  1. BBC Radio 3 broadcasts Choral Evensong every week and includes their recordings on the internet at . They go to different churches and have different choirs each week.

  2. First let me mention that you can not get the BBC broadcasts outside of the UK.

    Here are a few other good evensong cd's

    Magdalen College, Oxford - Praise Him All Ye Angels - 1998

    Exeter Cathedral Choir - Evensong from Exeter Cathedral - 2008

    Kings College Choir - Evensong & Vespers at King's College - 1996

    New College Choir - Evensong at New College Oxford - 2004

    Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys - Evensong for Advent - 1998


  3. Actually Buck, I can get the broadcasts using Paul's link. It's really nice. My only problem is that it's a little choppy due to my lack of a hi-speed connection. I want to find a way to save them to a CD so I can listen to them at work. There is quite an archive of shows there, too.

    Thanks for the other tips. I have the DVD of King's College Evensong and Vespers but I can't tell what year it's from.