The Parliament Choir is twenty years old in 2020, and a couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for the choir about my impressions over that time, how the group has changed and how my own career has developed with it. In the article I mentioned Nicholas Ludford, the last composer to be associated officially with those buildings before yours truly, nearly five hundred years ago.
Ludford lay in the shadows until the very end of the twentieth century when a set of discs by The Cardinall’s Musick threw his music back into the light and showed emphatically just what a fine composer we had all been missing. He is part of that last great flourishing of that melismatic and long-breathed style of Tye, Taverner and early Tallis, and it seems that he laid down his pen rather than have to write in the new fashion, possibly for religious reasons, possibly for musical reasons.
His music was heard in what is now St. Stephen’s Hall, part of the Houses of Parliament but then within the confines of the Royal Palace, and it is very likely that his Missa Lapidaverunt Stephanum was written for that very place. A few years ago, after recording Ludford’s set of Lady Masses (for daily use), Geoffrey Webber brought his choir to Parliament where they performed that music and some of the Lapidaverunt Stephanum in the buildings for which they had been written, but unheard for nearly half a millennium.
I remember being astonished at the time at how well Ludford understood the space, and only a little of that majesty comes through on the more intimate acoustic of those Cardinall’s Musick discs, but in St. Stephen’s Hall it was magnificent and impressive, which, of course, it was meant to be, not only reflecting the glory of God in music but also showing off just how cultured and magnificent Henry’s court (thought it) was to any visiting dignitaries. It sounded pretty good on my terrace on Sunday morning too, a judicious repositioning of the CD player meaning that I could sit out in the freshness of the day with that wonderful sound emanating faintly from the back door.
There are familiar voices on that disc as well, not least that of Robin Blaze, whose countertenor tone was clearly going to make him a star even when we were at college together, and which always makes me smile when I hear it appear through the speakers, more so the less I expect it to be there. Sitting outside and drifting back to twenty, thirty, even five hundred years ago was a pleasant experience, I must say, even if I would only ever do it in small doses, for there is no time really but the present, even if we can indulge ourselves and take a couple of hours off here and there.