Hindemith’s Mass was his last completed work, composed in 1963 and first performed under his direction in Vienna. Rich in contrapuntal invention, sonorous and mature in style, and filled with a variety of vocal textures that owe a lot to early music: it is one of those works that continue to grow in stature the more one experiences them. We intersperse the movements of this Mass with some of the finest 17th century anthems – by Weelkes, Gibbons, Purcell, and a variation on Purcell’s by the Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström – in which the old polyphonic style is still alive and well, even while being stretched and transformed into something new.
Hindemith was a pioneer of the early music revival, and while teaching at Yale during the 1940s he directed numerous concerts of music ranging from plainchant to Monteverdi. His knowledge of early music was profound, and although these works are not intended to suggest any direct influence on Hindemith’s own music, they are comparable in the way they both preserve and renew the musical style of their day.
The title of the concert is taken from a nocturnal passage in The Garden of Cyrus, a beautiful elegiac piece of prose by the 17th century writer Thomas Browne. It refers to the five ports of knowledge, and the quintuple shapes found in nature which were carried over into the design of ancient gardens and other classical formations. The programme, therefore, features music by five composers.