Bringing Bliss back to Coventry Cathedral

Archive: Article for Making Music, live on the site during September 2012. 

Fifty years ago, the English composer and then Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Arthur Bliss, was commissioned to provide a choral work for the consecration ceremony of the new Cathedral Church of St. Michael in Coventry, famously built alongside the ruins of the old 14th century cathedral which had been bombed during the Second World War.

Sadly for the composer, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem took precedence on the day, with the Beatitudes, Bliss’s cantata written with the librettist Christopher Hassall, being relegated to a subsidiary concert at Coventry Theatre. With a much reduced space for the orchestra and chorus, and no cathedral organ, the work could not shine to its full effect and has rarely been performed since.

For the 2012 Golden Jubilee at Coventry Cathedral, Yorkshire Making Music members the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, alongside the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, will be setting things to rights by performing the Beatitudes in the setting for which it was originally composed, for the first time.

For the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, this concert represents an exciting opportunity. Chorus Chairman Julie Smethurst said: “We are absolutely delighted and honoured to have the privilege of participating in this fantastic project. It will be a very moving experience for us to perform it as he intended. It has been quite a challenge to get to grips with some complex music and musical effects but, along with our colleagues the BBC Philharmonic and under the most inspiring direction of Paul Daniel, hopefully we can deliver a performance that would have pleased Sir Arthur.”

Paul Daniel is conductor and former chorister in Coventry. “I knew a bit about The Beatitudes from my years at Coventry Cathedral but it was always spoken about in ‘hushed tones’. Now I know why and I’m delighted to be a part of paying homage to Sir Arthur Bliss in this wonderful event. Putting things right after all these years is long overdue and I’m really looking forward to conducting the real ‘premiere’ of this magnificent work.”

The Director of the Golden Jubilee Concerts in Coventry, Michael Foster, added:

“This is the culmination of a 21 year dream to right the incredible wrong done to an extraordinary musician, an impressive ‘gentle’ man and a remarkable piece of music.”

The performance takes place on the 22nd September 2012. For more information, you can follow the official blog of the concert at http://blissbeatitudes.blogspot.co.uk/.

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