Dr Natassa Varka, asst organist at St James', offers a weekly selection of music to complement the worship.

It was in 1894 that Johannes Brahms (1833-97) wrote his last chamber works: two sonatas for clarinet and piano, op. 120. Three years earlier, Brahms had visited Meiningen where he was captivated by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, the clarinettist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra. In fact these weren’t the only pieces Brahms wrote for Mühlfeld: he also wrote a trio and a quintet, which together with the sonatas gave a huge boost to the clarinet repertoire at the time.


As an introduction to these wonderful pieces, I present the beautiful second movement of the first sonata, played here by Alessandro Carbonare and Andrea Dindo. If you enjoy listening to this, you can find the other movements and pieces on youtube.


29th March

Although Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) is best known for his operas, he also wrote several religious works, the most famous of which is his setting of the Requiem mass. His final work, written when he was 84, was a setting of the medieval Latin hymn to Mary Stabat mater dolorosa for chorus and large orchestra. The text, given below, has been set to music hundreds of times over the centuries. Whereas many settings divide the text into different movements with lots of repetition (think of, for example, the famous setting by Pergolesi), Verdi’s – which as you will hear is very operatic in nature – is a single, through-composed movement. In the recording linked below, it is performed by the chorus and orchestra of La Scala, conducted by Riccardo Muti.



Stabat mater dolorósa
juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius.

The grieving Mother stood 

Weeping beside the cross 

Where her Son was hanging.

Cuius ánimam geméntem,
contristátam et doléntem
pertransívit gládius.


Through her weeping soul, 

Compassionate and grieving, 

A sword passed.

O quam tristis et afflícta
fuit illa benedícta,
mater Unigéniti!


O how sad and afflicted

Was that blessed 

Mother of the Only-begotten!

Quae mœrébat et dolébat,
pia Mater, dum vidébat
nati pœnas ínclyti.


Who mourned and grieved,

The pious Mother, looking at

The torment of her glorious Child.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si vidéret
in tanto supplício?


Who is the person who would not weep,

Seeing the Mother of Christ

In such agony?

Quis non posset contristári
Christi Matrem contemplári
doléntem cum Fílio?

Who would not be able to feel compassion

On beholding Christ’s Mother 

Suffering with her Son?

Pro peccátis suæ gentis
vidit Jésum in torméntis,
et flagéllis súbditum.


For the sins of his people

She saw Jesus in torment

And subjected to the scourge.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriéndo desolátum,
dum emísit spíritum.


She saw her sweet offspring

Dying, forsaken,

While he gave up his spirit.

Eja, Mater, fons amóris
me sentíre vim dolóris
fac, ut tecum lúgeam.


O Mother, fountain of love,

Make me feel the power of sorrow,

That I may grieve with you.

Fac, ut árdeat cor meum
in amándo Christum Deum
ut sibi compláceam.

Grant that my heart may burn

In the love of Christ my Lord,

That I may greatly please Him.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifíxi fige plagas
cordi meo válide.


Holy Mother, grant that

The wounds of the Crucified 

Drive deep into my heart.

Tui Nati vulneráti,
tam dignáti pro me pati,
pœnas mecum dívide.


That of your wounded Son,

Who so deigned to suffer for me,

I may share the pain.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifíxo condolére,
donec ego víxero.


Let me, pious one, weep with you,

Bemoan the Crucified,

For as long as I live.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociáre
in planctu desídero.


To stand beside the cross with you,

And to join you in your weeping,

This I desire.

Virgo vírginum præclára,
mihi iam non sis amára,
fac me tecum plángere.


Chosen Virgin of virgins, 

Be not bitter with me,

Let me weep with thee.

Fac ut portem Christi mortem,
passiónis fac consórtem,
et plagas recólere.


Grant that I may bear the death of Christ,

The fate of His Passion,

And commemorate His wounds.

Fac me plagis vulnerári,
fac me Cruce inebriári,
et cruóre Fílii.


Let me be wounded with his wounds,

Let me be inebriated by the cross

And your Son’s blood. 

Flammis ne urar succénsus,
per te, Virgo, sim defénsus
in die iudícii.


Lest I burn, set afire by flames,

Virgin, may I be defended by you,

On the day of judgement.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me veníre
ad palmam victóriæ.


Christ, when it is time to pass away, 

Grant that through your Mother

I may come to the palm of victory.

Quando corpus moriétur,
fac, ut ánimæ donétur
paradísi glória.


When my body dies, 

Grant that to my soul is given

The glory of paradise.


Translation by Hans van der Velden.

25th March

This week I have chosen two very different a cappella settings of texts associated with Palm Sunday.


The first, Hosanna to the son of David, was written by the English composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Although the imitative nature of the choral entries was a staple compositional technique at the time, it is a perfect illustration of the shouting of the crowd who welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.


Hosanna to the Son of David.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the King of Israel.
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest places.
Hosanna in the highest heavens.


The second is a motet written by the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). The text is taken from Philippians 2:8-9, which is often read on Palm Sunday:


Christus factus est pro nobis obediens 
usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.
Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum et dedit illi nomen,
quod est super omne nomen.


Christ became obedient for us unto death,
even to the death, death on the cross.
Therefore God exalted Him and gave Him a name
which is above all names.


I hope you enjoy listening to these wonderful pieces. 

18th March

This week we travel to Spain to listen to two powerful settings of the Lenten text O vos omnes. Adapted from Lamentations 1:12, the full text is as follows:


O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte: si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus. Attendite, universi populi, et videte dolorem meum. Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.


O all you that pass by, pay attention and see if there is any sorrow like mine. Pay attention, all ye people, and look at my sorrow, if there be any sorrow like my sorrow.


The first setting is by the sixteenth-century composer, organist, singer, and priest Tomás Luis de Victoria.


The second, which sets a slightly shorter version of the same text, is by Pablo Casals, who is best known as one of the great cellists of the early twentieth century.

11th March

It is thought that Mozart wrote the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K. 364, in Salzburg in the summer or early autumn of 1779, after having encountered this new musical form on his recent trip to Paris and Mannheim. The sinfonia concertante emerged around the middle of the eighteenth century and is something between a symphony and a concerto; the solo instruments in this instance are violin and viola.


The slow movement is in C minor (the relative minor) and includes some powerful harmonic moves along with a cadenza for the solo instruments. I hope you enjoy listening to the interplay between the violin, the viola, and the orchestra in this beautiful piece.

4th March

Some of you might have noticed that although I've sent you music from the sixteenth, seventeenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, I haven’t yet sent anything from the eighteenth century. This was partly on purpose: I play so much Bach in church that I felt I ought to balance this with other styles, and as a musicologist specialising in Handel, it’s nice for me to spend time writing about music from other centuries! This week, however, it’s the turn of the early eighteenth century: a beautiful alto aria with obbligato violin from the St Matthew Passion.


‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’ follows Peter’s third denial of Jesus, at which point he is described as weeping bitterly (Matthew 26:75). The words, which are also appropriate for Lent in general, are as follows:


Erbarme dich, mein Gott, um meiner Zähren willen!

Have mercy, my God, for the sake of my tears!

Schaue hier, Herz und Auge weint vor dir bitterlich.

Look here, my heart and eyes weep before you bitterly.


This video is one of hundreds made by the Netherlands Bach Society as part of their excellent project All of Bach. When complete, this project will present a video recording of every work by Bach for free. It's well worth taking a look.