In 1943 Walter Hussey, the art-loving vicar of St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, commissioned the 30-year-old Benjamin Britten to write a piece for the church’s 50th anniversary. The result was Rejoice in the Lamb, based on a somewhat quirky 18th century poem by Christopher Smart which celebrated God through the diversity of His creations. Britten’s joyous score, with its infectious rhythms and melodies was a surefire success and has long delighted choirs and audiences. Britten himself conducted the work’s first performance.
We have Hussey to thank not only for the birth of this work, but for many subsequent commissions in Northampton and Chichester where he became Dean of the cathedral in 1955. Composers including Michael Tippett, Leonard Bernstein, Edmund Rubbra, Lennox Berkeley and Gerald Finzi, as well as visual artists such as Henry Moore, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Marc Chagall, all benefitted from Hussey’s love of the arts. Perhaps his most famous legacy at Chichester was to commission Bernstein to write the wonderful Chichester Psalms – which LCS have performed twice, in 2004 and 2013.
Fast forward forty years to a time when a talented male treble became a chorister in that same Northampton church choir, performing many great works including Rejoice in the Lamb – which he remembers with great affection. That choirboy was Dan Ludford-Thomas, who in 1986 became Choirboy of the Year, and went on to make many radio, TV and concert appearances before studying music in Durham and London, and beginning his career as singer, teacher and choral conductor.
Fast forward again to the 9th of July, when LCS will sing Rejoice in the Lamb along with Britten’s later short motet Deus in adjutorium meum. Both pieces will be conducted by our dynamic music director… Dan Ludford-Thomas! So now we have come full circle as Dan takes up his baton to conduct his own choir in this scintillating, celebratory work.
– – –
To learn more about Britten’s life, click here for a Flickr album of Martin Bull’s visits to the places Britten lived and worked in.