Magazine article The Spectator

Music: Damian Thompson

Magazine article The Spectator

Music: Damian Thompson

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago I was at the perfect wedding. My young friend Will Heaven, a comment editor at the Telegraph , married the beautiful Lida Mirzaii, his girlfriend since university. The service was in Wardour Chapel in Wiltshire, a neoclassical masterpiece described by Pevsner as 'so grand in its decoration that it seems consciously to express the spirit of the Catholic ecclesia triumphans '. Most of the guests were in their mid-twenties and doing their best to control their boisterousness. The Oratorian priest wore an antique cope; if it had been a Mass he might have been allowed to borrow the chasuble in the sacristy believed to have been worn by Cardinal Wolsey at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Will was a boy chorister at Salisbury so the choice of hymns was spot on. But the music at weddings lives or dies at the hands of the organist (in my youth I wrecked quite a few with my approximation of Mendelssohn's Wedding March ) and here Will took no chances. Edward Tambling, assistant director of music at Spanish Place, has the most impeccable technique and judgment. As an organ scholar at Westminster Abbey, he got into hot water for using 'colourful language' on a Facebook page to describe the nauseating clotted harmonies of John Rutter. Good man!

As we took our places, out roared my favourite E-flat major chord -- the opening of Bach's 'St Anne' Prelude and Fugue BWV 552. Nothing in Bach's organ music surpasses the grandeur of this work. Confusingly, the prelude and the fugue weren't originally published as a pair but were placed on either side of a collection of the composer's finest chorale preludes: the whole is known as the Clavier-Übung III , or 'German Organ Mass'. They form musical bookends, in other words -- but they also create an overwhelming effect when joined together, as they are in organ recitals.

The English nickname 'St Anne' came about because the fugue begins with a subject that matches the first line of the hymn tune known as 'St Anne' -- 'O God Our Help in Ages Past'. I can't hear it without those words running through my head. Alas, it's a coincidence -- Bach wouldn't have known the tune, by William Croft -- but a happy one, because the giant dimensions of the fugue depict God in all His mystery. As Albert Schweitzer put it:

The triple fugue . …

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