Today we celebrate the feast of Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Forty days on from Christmas was the traditional time for blessing candles for church use in the coming year. In Poland the candle motif is taken to another level; there Candlemas is known as the feast of Our Lady of thunder candles, and the blessed candles are lit during thunder storms to ward off the weather.
Our music at today’s eucharist reflects the story of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem, brought by his parents to be dedicated to God. Eccard’s Maria wallt zum Heiligtum (When to the Temple Mary went) is, perhaps, the Candlemas piece par excellence, capturing the joy of the aged Simeon and the hopeful turning towards Easter that begins today. Paired with that is a modern work Child of the stable’s secret birth by Samuel Rathbone. Timothy Dudley-Smith’s words bring home the paradox of the grandeur of God in the tiniest of human forms, while pointing from the cosy stable scene to the bleaker themes of Lent and Holy Week. Finally, Simeon’s timeless and always comforting words “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” round off our celebration of the end of Epiphany in Gibbons’ Short Service. The mass setting is Byrd’s Mass for four voices.
At 6pm we have some classic evensong repertoire: Harwood in A flat, Sumsion responses and Bainton’s And I saw a new heaven. Edgar Bainton was professor of piano and later Principal at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Conservatory of Music and subsequently also an academic in Australia. Although he wrote ten large-scale pieces for chorus and orchestra and a number of symphonic works he is today best remembered as a composer of church music, especially the late-romantic splendour of And I saw a new heaven. He was unlucky enough to be interned as an enemy alien in Germany during World War I, having travelled there for the Bayreuth Festival in 1914.