Season after Pentecost, 2023
When . . . you have a choral society in Tokyo dedicated solely to the performance of your music, you don’t have to worry.
Rutter’s music has always been of the easy-listening variety: tuneful, popular, conservative and sweet-toothed. Classic FM as opposed to Radio 3. It’s also music that declares its sources without shame. You hear it and think: ah yes, the Bernstein bit, the Britten, Walton, Faure. But that said, it’s immaculately crafted; it’s loveable (I’d man the barricades for at least one of his Christmas carols, What Sweeter Music which, I’m afraid to say DOES reduce me to tears); he has a gift for melody that most “serious” composers would kill for (if they were honest); and his music touches people’s lives in a way that most contemporary writing doesn’t. It’s no wonder that the musical establishment regards him with suspicion; but then, he hardly needs its accolades. When your international profile is so huge that you have a choral society in Tokyo dedicated solely to the performance of your music, you don’t have to worry. So I don’t suppose it will bother him that the real hit of the wedding music turned out to be another new-ish piece – not a commission – by a little known composer called Paul Mealor.
Few outside the British choral tradition will have heard of him, but he’s fairly young (born 1975 in Wales), teaches at a Scottish university, and writes music less ingratiating than John Rutter’s but still easy to assimilate.
For contemporary church musicians it’s a stroke of luck: a chance to ride a moment when their culture acquires a sudden spotlight.
The Ubi Caritas setting they did this morning had an austere resonance of plainsong that then flowered into the kind of cloudy harmonic suspensions of a Morten Lauridsen or Eric Whitacre: the two figures that seem to define where-it’s-at choral writing at the moment. So, not terribly original, but well put together and effective. And I confidently predict that Mealor will now leap to sudden fame on the back of it. His Ubi Caritas was certainly the closest this wedding got to the nerve-touching John Tavener moment at the last big royal ceremonial that broadcast to the world: Diana’s funeral.
Music at a royal Abbey occasion can’t help having a significance. For future generations it will stand as evidence of past taste: who was in or out of favour. For contemporary church musicians it’s a stroke of luck: a chance to ride a moment when their culture – these days relatively marginal in public consciousness – acquires a sudden spotlight.
White, Michael. "Paul Mealor's Ubi Caritas was the real hit of the wedding music". The Telegraph 29 April 2011
John Rutter’s This is the day wasn’t undignified or poppy, but its easy tunefulness did border on the slick and saccharine - give it some new words, and one could imagine Elaine Paige belting it out at the tear-jerking climax of a West End musical.
A young Welsh composer Paul Mealor (not, I confess, someone whose name or work I was previously acquainted with`) contributed a well-crafted motet Ubi caritas et amor. Lachrymose and meditative in mood, it is an exercise in the minimalist school of spirituality, heavily influenced by Tavener, Part and Gorecki, and Classic FM’s favourite Karl Jenkins. Pleasant enough, I thought, but not memorable.
Christiansen, Rupert (Opera Critic). "Royal wedding music: a magnificent Pageant". The Telegraph 29 April 2011.
The two new commissions were "This Is the Day" by John Rutter and a setting of the "Ubi caritas" text by Welsh composer Paul Mealor. The Rutter was, well, Rutter. Pretty enough, easy for amateur choirs to sing, but immediately forgettable. There's nothing wrong with Rutter's compositions per se, it's just that once you've heard one, you've heard them all, so there's very little point to a new commission.
Considering the popularity of the lovely "Ubi caritas" setting by Maurice Duruflé, Paul Mealor had big shoes to fill. His music is gently dissonant and reminiscent of Eric Whitacre's work.
Adair, Marcia. "Royal wedding: what the music says about William and Kate" LA Times Culture Monster blog 29 April 2011.
Mealor on his "Ubi caritas"
The composition is for choir and is gentle, delicate and meditative. The ancient, 6th century plainchant of Ubi Caritas is blended with 21st century harmony to create a work that, I hope, is both new and reflective of the past.
Mealor, Paul. "Royal wedding music: a 'delicate and meditative' composition" The Guardian 29 April 2011
Website of Paul Mealor
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