08 June 2014

Taking Handel’s ‘Water Music’ to the
beaches of Malahide and Portmarnock

The beach at Portmarnock. Co Dublin, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Day of Pentecost [8 June 2014], and I was invited to celebrate the Eucharist and to preach in Saint Michan’s Church, Church Street, Dublin, at 10 a.m., and in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman at 11.30 a.m.

These two churches, along with Saint Werburgh’s Church in Werburgh Street, are part of the Christ Church Cathedral group of parishes in inner city Dublin, and I am back in Saint Werburgh’s and All Saints’ next week to preside at the Eucharist and to preach on Trinity Sunday [15 June 2014].

It is a joy to be in normal parishes, with normal parishioners, on a normal Sunday, and it is a reminder of the underlying purpose of teaching theology with ordinands.

In both sermons this morning, I spoke of Pentecost as the day on which we celebrate the birthday of the Church. The rubrics for the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer (2004) set out clear priorities for the three principal Holy Days in the Church – Christmas Day, Easter Day and the Day of Pentecost, stating unambiguously: “On these days the Holy Communion is celebrated in every cathedral and parish church unless the ordinary shall otherwise direct” (p. 18).

Yet, looking at the ‘Church Notices’ in The Irish Times yesterday [7 June 2014], it is mouth-opening to see how many churches ignore these rubrics year-after-year. Obviously, the parish rotas, such as Morning Prayer on the second Sunday of the month, take precedence over the provisions we have agreed as a Church in the Book of Common Prayer, and the second Sunday of the month takes precedence over the Day of Pentecost.

Already, I’ve noticed that the majority of parishes did not observe the Ascension Day on Thursday this year, but postponed the celebration until the following Sunday, even though the Book of Common Prayer advises that “liturgical provision” for these days “may not be displayed by any other observance.”

What next? Marking Good Friday on the next available Sunday? Changing the day for celebrating Christmas Day because it falls on a bank holiday?

I was in one parish on a Sunday some time ago (it shall remain unnamed) where the Holy Communion was celebrated with only one reading – and that was from the Acts of the Apostles ... there was no Old Testament reading, no Psalm (although it was printed on the notice sheet), and no Gospel reading; and the sermon barely referred to the one Scripture reading that was read.

Some incumbents argue that liturgy and the Church Calendar go over the heads of their parishioners, and they find them either irrelevant or outdated. But how can rectors who claim to give priority to the Gospel go without reading the Gospel or teaching the truths of the Ascension and Pentecost? Without the celebration of the full Easter cycle, Christianity soon becomes reduced to Arianism, and we then move on to creating a god who is in our own image and likeness.

In All Saints’ Church, it was a joy to be in a church where the parishioners appreciate liturgical tradition at its best, and where there is a robed choir anxious to learn and to expand and grow its capacity.

The Organ Trophy and a carving depicting 17 musical instruments in Saint Michan’s ... the Church is associated with Handel’s ‘Messiah’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Saint Michan’s also has a strong musical tradition: George Frideric Handel is said to have composed his Messiah on the organ which is dated 1724, or at least to have practised in advance of the first performance of Messiah on this organ.

In front of the gallery is the Organ Trophy, a piece of wood depicting 17 musical instruments, possibly carved by Henry Houghton or John Houghton, and installed in 1724.

Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) became George Frideric Handel when he moved to London. In 1710, Handel became Kapellmeister to Prince Georg Ludwig, the Elector of Hanover in 1710; four years later, in 1714, Prince Georg became King George I. It is interesting that Handel prospered on the English-speaking world though the patronage of the House of Hanover and the accidents of birth and capriciousness of politicians that brought an obscure German princeling to the throne in London 300 years ago on 1 August 1714.

The site of the Music Hall in Fishamble Street, where Handel’s ‘Messiah’ had its first performance in 1742 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later, as I walked from All Saints’ to Christ Church Cathedral, I passed along Fishamble Street, where Handel’s Messiah had its first performance in the Music Hall on 13 April 1742 before an audience of about 700 people.

The site of the Music Hall and the performance is marked by a plaque hidden by railings, and the hotel next door is called the George Frederic Handel Hotel – how many spelling combinations are possible for the name of one composer?

Looking across to Donabate and Portrane from the sands at Robswalls in Malahide this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later, I was reminded of Handel’s Water Music when two of us went for walks on the beaches of Malahide and Portmarnock in north Co Dublin. The Water Music is a collection of orchestral movements, often published as three suites, composed by George Frideric Handel. It received its premiere on 17 July 1717 after King George I had requested a concert on the River Thames.

We drove out to Malahide for a late lunch in Cape Greko, the Greek-Cypriot restaurant in New Street, near the Marina in Malahide.

Later, carrying tastes and music and memories from holidays in Greece with us, we drove from Malahide along the coast at Robswalls, looking back towards the beaches of the Donabate Peninsula. Despite rains earlier in the afternoon, a small number of people were out on sailboards and small boats.

By the time we reached Portmarnock, there was a small number of families walking on the beach, but nobody seemed foolhardy enough to venture in for a swim.

There was no Mediterranean weather in Malahide today, but the sight of the beaches and the water was like music to our souls.

Hippocratic wisdom on the wall of Cape Greko in Malahide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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