British composer Colin Mawby is the focus of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge.. Mawby is an organist as well as a composer. His music is composed for liturgical use, most of it either for chorus with organ, or for a capella choirs.
There seems to be two types of composers who write sacred music. The first are composers who come to the genre as outsiders. And while their music tends to be more adventuresome and challenging, it seems to work better in the concert hall than the cathedral. Beethoven's "Missa Solemnus," Brahms' "German Requiem", and Pendericki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" are some examples of this.
The second group -- of which Colin Mawby is a part -- are composers who have a strong professional background with church music, often as singers or organists. John Rutter (CCC 022), Healey Willan, and John Tavener (CCC 031) would be among this group.
Colin Mawby's style is steeped in the English choral tradition. It's tonally based, with the emphasis being on clearly-defined melodic contours.
Ave Verum Corpus is a good representative Mawby work. The text is liturgical, and although the choral writing is of a very high quality, the technical demands aren't beyond the reach of most semi-professional choirs.
Mawby's catalog includes over fifty masses, five song cycles, and a large number of settings for choir and two children’s operas. His setting of "Tu es Petrus" was performed in the Vatican, as you can see in this video.
This short "Halleluja" is simple and straightforward -- but there's nothing trite or commonplace about it.
Although Colin Mawby writes in traditional forms, his music shows a creative imagination at work. The weight of tradition seems to sit very lightly on his shoulders. For choral directors who are looking for contemporary works that connect with audiences -- but don't want to program Rutter or Whitacre too often -- Colin Mawby seems to be a viable option. At least to my ears.
The Music of Westminster Cathedral Choir