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John McCabe

Publisher: Novello & Co

Psalm-Cantata (2012)
Commissioned by the English Baroque Choir and their music director Jeremy Jackman, who gave the first performance on 16th March 2013 at St. John’s, Smith Square, London
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Baritone, Soprano
Alternate Orchestration
Baritone, Soprano; SATB; chamber organ
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Programme Note
John McCabe Psalm-Cantata (2012)
I’ve wanted to write a choral/instrumental piece based on texts from the Psalms for a very long time, so this commission from the English Baroque Choir and their music director Jeremy Jackman (to whom the work is dedicated) was a wonderful opportunity to put this idea into practice. I decided to write a kind of latter-day equivalent to the Bach cantatas, with two soloists (soprano and baritone). The texts are derived from a variety of Psalm sources: some in Latin, some in English, a meditation by Savonarola, and a Henry Vaughan poem.

The music is divided into three parts, performed without a break (or perhaps only a short one). At the beginning of Parts 1 and 2 the soloists intone recitative-like phrases in Latin, while at the beginning of Part 3 this brief section is purely instrumental. At the end of each Part, a chorale is sung by the choir, unaccompanied on the first two occasions but with all the forces combining for the final section, which in itself is a modest variation on the chorale theme. The soloists, who each have a solo number, also sing with the choir, especially in the finale.

The work pursues a course from the darkness of the pleas for mercy at the start to the ebullient lightness of the final number, when in Latin a celebration of unity is expressed. It seemed to me that we need to be reminded sometimes that living in unity and amity is something to be celebrated.
Programme Note © 2012 John McCabe

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If it's energy, refinement and capacity to surprise were often reminiscent of Haydn, this new piece also captured the essence of John McCabe, representing his music at its most direct and compelling. Ultimately, it sent out a heartfelt message of what Elgar termed 'a massive hope in the future' through an acute ear for text setting and an unerring sense of how to achieve the most telling effects with reduced forces.
Paul Conway, Tempo,01/01/2014
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