Guest Post: Simon C Berry
I’m writing today about The English composer Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986), whose Mass setting we are performing at Solemn Masses in the month of St. Dominic. This music is different from really any other Mass setting that we sing and has a unique quality of cohesion. The style of Rubbra’s work has been summed up as, “In an age of fragmentation, Rubbra stands as a composer of a music of oneness”. And: “He…has never made any effort to popularize anything he has done, but he goes on creating masterpieces”.
Rubbra wrote his Mass setting Missa in honorem sancti Dominici on the occasion of his conversion to Catholicism on August 4, 1948 – the Feast of St. Dominic on the old liturgical calendar (in the modern calendar the feast day is August 8); hence its dedication in honor of St. Dominic. The first performance was at The Royal Academy of Music , Oct 26, 1949 in the presence of the Queen.
Rubbra’s artistic and sensitive nature were apparent from early on. He remembered waking one winter’s morning when he was about three or four years old, and noticing something different about the light in his bedroom; there was light where there was usually shadow, and vice versa. When his father came into the room, Edmund asked him why this was. His father explained that there had been a fall of snow during the night, and so the sunlight was reflecting off the snow and entering Edmund’s bedroom from below, instead of above, thus reversing the patterns of light and shade. When Rubbra was much older he came to realize that this ‘topsy-turveydom’, as he called it, had caused him to often use short pieces of melodywhich would sound good, both in their original form and when inverted (so that when the original melody goes up a certain amount, the inverted one goes down the same amount).
The first half of his life was a mystical and musical quest, culminating in conversion to Roman Catholicism. He worked for the railways when he left school, but later won scholarships that allowed him to study music with Gustav Holst. After earlier activity as a pianist in a distinguished piano trio, for some twenty years he was a lecturer in music at Oxford University. As a composer his individual voice is heard in his eleven symphonies, while his moving Cello Sonata echoes his interest in counterpoint and in the earlier traditions of vocal music. His choral music is finely crafted and full of interesting key shifts.
Simon Berry, August 2014