Sheet music

Musical contribution - December 2015

The First Nowell (John Ebenezer West) (1863-1929)

The English composer John E. West spent almost his whole life in London. He composed cantatas, anthems and works for the organ, but with the exception of his passacaglia, his compositions are rarely performed today. This is unfortunate, because West was a great artist, as exemplified by his work ‘The First Nowell’.

After a free - and fragmentary - opening, we hear the chorale expressed with a lingual; first in soprano and then in the tenor eight measures later, and then again played on the ‘Great’ starting in measure 34. In measure 48, West gets to work on the first line, transitioning into a sequence. He then repeats it twice, before moving on to a magnificently bombastic reduced seventh chord in measure 74.

In measure 79, an allegro begins above an organ point: a rising sequence that creates a tension before releasing into the melody in the pedal in measure 91. After eight measures, West slows down to continue in G-major for another eight measures, but then continues the melody a quarter higher. Animated, he takes us from B-major to the conclusion, where we come back to the main key, as if he expressly wishes to say: “Born is the King of Israel”.

On behalf of the management and staff, we would like to wish you all a blessed Christmas and a musical New Year.

André van Vliet