The year was 1968 and I was a young postgraduate music student walking down King’s Parade in Cambridge when I saw the revered figure of David Willcocks, director of King’s College Choir, striding towards me. He had rock-star status in Cambridge and beyond, and although I knew him from his weekly harmony and counterpoint classes which I had attended, I wasn’t quite sure whether to nod politely, say ‘good afternoon, Mr Willcocks’, or hurry past hoping he hadn’t noticed me. Fortunately he spoke first. ‘Would you like to co-edit a second volume of Carols for Choirs with me, Mr Rutter?’ There was only one possible answer, and that’s how my part-time career as an anthologist began.
Anthologising is one of life’s sweet pleasures, rather like throwing a party for your favourite friends. Imagine that, by a miracle of scheduling, there they all are in one room at one time, and as you circulate among them, you remember exactly why you wanted to be their friend in the first place, you probably remember the circumstances of your first meeting, and you are delighted to find that they haven’t changed a bit and you are still drawn to them. Also at the party are some new friends; you haven’t known them for as long, but you sense that they will remain your friends for ever.
An anthology is a gathering of your friends. In the case of the Sacred Choruses collection I have just been editing, the room is a 384-page book—you can’t, of course, include everyone you would like to, but there’s still space for lots of friends. In many cases I certainly remember when I first met them . . . The heavens are telling when I sang in my school performance of Haydn’s Creation as a piping 13-year-old treble, standing next to my chum John Tavener. Our hearts always lifted when we heard ‘turn to page 42’ and we rehearsed this (to me still thrilling) chorus. As I walked home after those rehearsals—it saved the bus fare—I walked on air. Or the Fauré Requiem: it was a set work for A-level and I took myself along to a local amateur performance to get to know it better. I remember experiencing an uncanny feeling that it would be a dear friend and companion on my life’s journey (it is). To this day tears come to my eyes when I conduct the In paradisum.
You never know when you might make a new friend. Last year I was browsing through the autograph manuscript of Mendelssohn’s unfinished oratorio Christus (I love composers’ manuscripts) when I happened on an exquisite chorus, Daughters of Zion, that I had never even heard of before. Welcome to the party, new friend!
A party is private, an anthology public, but as host/editor, your hope is that others will enjoy your friends as much as you do. As a composer, I suppose I look upon my compositions as my children, but my anthology choices are my friends, and friends are important too.
Sacred Choruses is available to buy from the OUP website. The playlist of music included in the anthology is available on Spotify and Apple Music.
Hi John! When will the book avaible in the US?
As of two weeks ago, the books were ‘on the boat’ to the US according to the publisher. We can check with Oxford on Monday and see how far they have got, but the general answer is ‘very soon’.
Good news – the first batch of Sacred Choruses has landed in the US and is ready to go.
What a lovely article about a superb anthology. Thank you, John, for the immense amount that you do for choral music.
Congratulations John! I can’t begin to imagine how much work has gone into this volume – what a wonderful addition to the anthology series.
All his works, be they his own or anthologies, are fantastic, and it is a pride for Humanity to be able to enjoy his presence and contribution to the world of choral music. From La Rioja (Spain), thank you, thank you very much, dear John. It is wonderful to be able to count on your friendship forever.