STERNE, was THE MAN – Music & Morals

After the premiere of
the Church Times wrote:
‘The keyboardist and composer, Radio 3 celebrity, polymath, and piano virtuoso
David Owen Norris and the Georgian writer and cleric Laurence Sterne go well together: fond of everything 17th- and 18th-century, Norris sometimes, one feels, should don peruke and breeches to go about his business. His is the world of Hooke, or Locke, possibly of Voltaire. He is as culturally travelled as the author of the fictionalised travelogue A Sentimental Journey, or as any who made the Grand Tour ….
‘… bizarre were it not so clever and daring … centred on a complete declamation of Sterne’s celebrated 1764 Paris sermon. The world première played to a packed Minster choir. Indeed, uplifted by a beautifully drilled, cohesive, quadripartite children’s choir and resplendent tenor soloist (Mark Wilde), STERNE, was THE MAN was bewitching. …. a great event, huge fun to be at.’

See the film here. (At the bottom of the right-hand column.)


The piece, commissioned in 2013 by the Laurence Sterne Trust as part of its Voice from the Pulpit project, presents Sterne’s last sermon, The Case of Hezekiah & the Messengers, which grapples with the moral problem of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Sterne was a non-residentiary canon of York Minster, where his uncle was the Archbishop. During his lifetime, Sterne’s sermons were as famous as his novels, and the Trust’s commission is intended to draw attention to a neglected literary form.

The piece ends with a setting of the epitaph on Sterne’s gravestone, now in the porch of Coxwold church. The title is taken from the couplet:

STERNE, was THE MAN, who with gigantic stride
Mowed down luxuriant follies, far and wide

The piece is accompanied by instruments that Sterne knew and loved – viola da gamba, square piano, cavalry trumpet, and string quartet. In each of the three performances so far, the tenor solo has been sung by Mark Wilde. The sermon has been preached by both David Bradley and Christopher Benjamin, and the gamba part has been played by Susanna Pell and Richard Boothby. Children from schools around Coxwold sang at the premiere, and subsequent performances have featured Highcliffe Junior Choir and the Quiristers of Winchester College and the trebles of St Michael’s Choir.

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