5th Evening Canticles, ‘The Bells’ by Gregory Rose

Gregory RoseGregory Rose is a conductor/composer and a recent addition to the family of bell-ringers. His main bands are Stepney (St Dunstan’s), where he learns with Jonathan Slack, and Foster Lane (St Vedast), where he is taught by Tom Lawrance. He has composed a new set of Evening Canticles to celebrate the centenary of The Ringing World in 2011.

Gregory writes:

In this work I employ a number of methods and call changes that will be familiar to ringers. In the Magnificat most of these methods are in the organ part and are not very literal in that I have adapted them to my own compositional angle by adding accidentals, thereby changing the natural diatonic tuning of bells (‘major scale’) to give phrases a modal flavour.

The organ opening of the Magnificat begins, appropriately enough, with ringing up on 6 bells (notes), which is followed immediately by Tittums on 6. At the words “For behold from henceforth …” the organ breaks into a modal rendition of Westminster Surprise Minor, going through 24 rows and therefore completing the first lead. The organ then launches into a half-speed version of 11 rows of London Scholars Pleasure Treble Bob Minor. At the words “He hath showed strength with his arm”, the organ takes up a reversed version of St Clements Bob Minor, using 12 rows, followed by 8 rows of Chester Surprise Minor, which moves further and further away from its diatonic origins. At the words “He remembering his mercy” there is a complete lead of Reverse Canterbury Bob Minimus, inverted. The Gloria is the same in both movements. At the words “As it was in the beginning” I have finally used a method in the voice part, but in a rather unusual way: I have notated treble bobbing, i.e. “1 2 1 2 3 4 3 4 5 6 5 6 6 5 6 5 4 3 4 3 2 1 2 1 1”, etc, 1 being the note F, 2 is E, and so on. I begin employing this in the treble voice but the alto part also moves simultaneously in contrary motion. When the treble and alto lines reach their 4th note the tenors and basses use the treble bobbing system from the halfway mark, also in contrary motion, so that it becomes a rather complex four-part canon.

In the Nunc Dimittis the voice parts have a series of call change patterns. The basses open with Queens, and then the tenors take on Roller Coaster at “… according to thy word”. At “For mine eyes have seen”, the organ part has another rendition of Roller Coaster, with the altos using Hagdyke and the organ pedal Exploding Hagdyke. At “… and to be the glory” the pedal uses 8 rows of Plain Bob Minimus.

The mechanics of using a systematic rotation of notes in composition has fascinated me since my student days. I spent five months studying “Twelve-note technique” in Vienna in the 1960s with Hanns Jelinek, a former pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. This is a complex form of ‘note rotation’ involving all the white and black notes of the octave (12 notes) and so bears a number of similarities with change ringing. Here is a list of methods and call changes used in the canticles:

  • Ringing Up (on 6)
  • Tittums (on 6)
  • Westminster Surprise Minor
  • London Scholars’ Pleasure Treble Bob Minor
  • St Clements Bob Minor (reversed)
  • Chester Surprise Minor
  • Reverse Canterbury Bob Minimus (inverted)
  • Treble Dodging Minor
  • Queens
  • Roller Coaster
  • Hagdyke (reversed)
  • Exploding Hagdyke
  • Plain Bob Minimus

Gregory’s 5th set of Evening Canticles (‘The Bells’) were premièred at Choral Evensong on Wednesday, 11th May 2011 at St Pancras Parish Church as part of the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. The canticles were performed by the St Pancras Church Choir, conducted by Christopher Batchelor, with Leon Charles organ, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. There was a repeat transmission on Sunday 15th May at 4pm, see here

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