Easter has inspired some of the greatest works in classical music. First of all let’s get the whole religion thing out of the way; YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RELIGIOUS TO ENJOY THIS MUSIC! Right. Now I’ve said that, in my humble option, here are five incredible Easter pieces you need to listen to before the boulder is moved for the 1986th time…
The Crucifixus is Lotti’s best known work, and comes from the Credo in F for choir and orchestra. The Concise Oxford Dictionary summaries his life rather neatly: For a time he was organist of St. Mark’s, Venice; composed important church music, over 20 operas, etc So we now have the same knowledge about Lotti, I can tell you this piece was written in Venice between 1717 and 1719.
Robert’s Recommendation: I’d recommend a glass of red, a dark room, and savour the atmosphere whilst your better half is preparing your favourite three course meal in the kitchen.
2. Allegri: miserere
A devout catholic, having been trained as a priest, and worked with the Vatican’s Papal Choir right up until his death, Allegri composed this piece for two separate choirs at Rome’s Sistine Chapel: one of four voices, and the other of five. Written in the 1630s and originally only sung in the Chapel, it wasn’t until 100 years or so later that transcriptions of the Miserere were made and the work spread from Rome across the world.
Robert’s Recommendation: I prescribe moving from the dark atmosphere of the Lotti to enjoying Allegri’s wonder during the starter that your other half should now have put on the table!
3. Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture
Some may say a strange choice. I was going to put Mahler Symphony 2 in this spot; however, I just can’t sit and concentrate to a piece of music for 90 minutes without getting a little bored! I’m sure I’ll get criticism for saying that, but the famous Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov keeps me listening intently (all the way through), so made it to number three instead. The piece was rather oddly premiered not at Easter, but in December of 1888; and was dedicated to the memories of Mussorgsky and Borodin. An avowed atheist, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that he wanted to capture 'the transition from the solemnity and mystery of the evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious celebrations of Easter Sunday morning’. This proves that you don’t need to be religious to enjoy and appreciate this wonderful music.
Robert’s Recommendation: This perfectly accompanies your main course…
4. Stainer: God so loved the world (Crucifixion)
This is where I should possibly put the most famous piece of all Easter works, The Messiah by good old George Handel. The only issue I have is that I can’t stand the piece. I’m all Hallelujah’ed out. Therefore one naturally moves over to another composer writing in London 150 years later; John Stainer and his seminal Easter work, the Crucifixion. The issue though, is that as a complete work, I don’t particularly rate it. I find Stainer’s writing a little bit like sponge cake; perfectly nice, but would be so much more delicious with some chocolate icing and a dab of cream. I therefore can’t put the whole of the Crucifixion onto the number four spot - but I can put ‘God So Loved The World’. I used to play the church organ, and with that came conducting the church choir. From the first performance in Marylebone Church in 1887, I’m sure conductors around the world have enjoyed this little gem as much as I have.
Robert’s Recommendation: Not right for dessert, so take a break from eating, close your eyes, and enjoy.
5. Trad: Were You There?
Can you say this is a masterpiece like the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, or the Bach Easter Oratorio? I’m not so sure. But music is there to move you, create emotions, make you feel something - and this arrangement by James Whitbourn does that. I remember singing this in primary school and the haunting melody has stayed with me ever since; so it goes into the number five slot. Sadly no-one knows who composed it, but we do know it was an American spiritual that was first published in 1899 and think it likely by an enslaved African-American. Simple music, but effective.
Robert’s Recommendation: Again, it doesn’t feel right to chow-down on your sticky toffee pudding whilst they sing ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’, so perhaps just continue the break of food and finish of your glass of red!
Bonus: Brackett & Carter: Lord of the Dance
I’m aware this is called ‘5 incredible Easter pieces you need to listen to’, but as you haven’t eaten dessert yet, I feel it’s only right to give you a bonus sixth piece so you can enjoy the best bit of a three-course meal. Rather selfishly, it’s one of my arrangements; Lord of the Dance.
The shaker tune ‘Simple Gifts’ was written in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett, with the famous hymn set to words by English songwriter Sydney Carter in 1963. I liked this piece so much, I thought I’d arrange it for a capella choir back in 2016. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, this is sung by Arts Voices - with a solo by Mrs E non the less!
DVD & Music recommendations for Easter
Easter from King's (The Choir of Kings College Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury) - 'Easter from King s' is the first DVD release of the regular BBC broadcast, which forms a cornerstone of the BBC s Easter programming. This service was first broadcast at Easter 2014 from the College s awe-inspiring Chapel.
The Story Of King's College Choir - Not specifically Easter related; but if you haven’t guessed by all the videos above, King’s College Choir are one of the best, if not the best choir in the world for choral music. This DVD shows their story.
Easter-Hymns Carols & Anthems - Fascinating, unusual, and beautiful repertoire, all beautifully presented and beautifully sung!
Handel: Messiah - If you like this piece (which if you read above you’ll know I don’t) then this is one of the best recordings ever made, plus it’s captured on DVD.
We're Going on an Egg Hunt - If you have a little one in your family, this is a wonderful book (well, so says the three-year-old Master T).
Mr Impossible and the Easter Egg Hunt - Again, if you have a bundle of toddler-trouble in your life, this is a good old classic