Written and composed from 2001 until completion in 2003, Sussex composer Michael Finnissy (b. 1946) celebrated the 900th anniversary of Saint Mary de Haura with a locally motivated creation, its outcome of a universality which deserves performances in churches nation-wide. This Church brought to mind St Nicholas (composed for Lancing College, close by Shoreham) and other community-inspired works of Britten.
Finnissy thinks of St Mary de Haura as typical of countless churches across the whole of England and its story which he tells as exemplifying the history of Christianity in this country from Norman times to the present. He meets this lofty aim with a compilation of textsof endless interest and fascination, the words (all provided, together with their sources) likely to claim centre stage on first hearing, but underpinned with evocative music which makes the whole greater than the sum of its disparate parts.
Drawing upon Michael Finnissy’s breadth of culture and wide reading, it is an ambitious, but at the same time economical and unpretentious, oratorio for our times, the particular evoking generalisations of place and time, the music supporting the moods in a mainly unassertive way. There are two spoken narrators, a chorus based upon the church’s own choir. A solo mezzo sings a text by Hildegard von Bingen, and Richard Jackson, baritone, takes the lion’s share with substantial passages of text ranging from the 3rd century A.D., via 18th C writings including Defoe, forward to moving 20th C. extracts of 1914 and 1945 from the St Mary’s parish magazine. That last of the four sections is utterly compelling on CD, but This Church is essentially a work to experience live.