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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