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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Journey Into Light (2005),
commissioned by the Academy of Ancient Music
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
16 Minutes
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Journey Into Light (2005),
This work was commissioned as a possible companion piece to Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and the decision was quickly made to write something as a complete contrast. The poems chosen, one anonymous from the early 16th century, the other two by the famous Scottish poet William Dunbar [1460?-1513?], describe the promise of salvation after life’s dark passage. Each of the three poems echo this thought: "In celum, ther is joy with Thee", "A short torment for infinite gladness” and “Since erdly joy abides never, Work for the joy that lastès ever" Thus in each poem the poet can overcome the fear of his inevitable death with the certainty of salvation: this work also has its ‘dark’ moments, but the overall mood is one of calmness and peace.

As with the words there are several musical motives that link the three songs. The musical motive for the refrain "Terribilis mors conturbat me" in the first macaronic poem [also a salute to Mozart since the Exsultate is in Latin] returns a little higher and more despairingly in each verse until the last verse where it is played a whole octave higher. This motive reappears [played mostly by the oboes] in the last song but now the pitch of each repeat goes in reverse, that is, from high to low. The famous motive of the Gregorian chant Dies Irae [representing death] is used to accompany the prayer of the second song. A musical motive for the joy of Paradise appears in the second song "A free choice given to Paradise or Hell".

There is also a ubiquitous 3-note chordal cluster which is used to illustrate the words: sometimes as a colour, and sometimes as articulation.

The bird of the last song "Thus sang ane bird with voice upplane"becomes several birds [oboes] singing in A major, but with a D sharp, thus the Lydian mode. However the refrain of this poem “All erdly joy returns in pane” is in F major. This alternation of F major / A major tonalities is a ‘structural’ feature which, is of course, heralded by Mozart in his "Exsultate Jubilate".

This work is thus written in homage to Mozart.

Thea Musgrave

Score preview:

The Academy of Ancient Music has in recent years become a propagator of new music as well. Premiered in Southampton in May but only now receiving its first London hearing, its latest commission is Thea Musgrave's Journey into Light, conceived as a companion piece to Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate. The result is strong enough to stand up for itself in that pairing, yet a very different animal. Instead of exhorting us to exult and jubilate, the soprano sings 15th-century texts, thick with imagery, entitled Lament, Prayer and Contemplation. In the baroque-inflected cadences of the first and the birdsong fragments of the third, Musgrave revels in the plangent sonorities of the AAM's oboes and bassoon, but elsewhere the music falls into rich Wagnerian harmonies that suggest she would have been equally happy scoring this work for modern orchestra, had a commission been forthcoming - which in the case of Musgrave, one of the UK's most senior and underrated composers, is all too unlikely.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian,15/12/2006
Musgrave’s Journey into Light, a song cycle shaped by a Lament, a Prayer and a Contemplation, was commissioned as a companion piece to Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, which was sung with robust and radiant virtuosity before the interval by Carolyn Sampson. The Mozart hails the joy already achieved — the sunlit song of the blessed spirits for whom the clouds and the storms have fled. Musgrave, Dunbar and an anonymous 16th-century poet anticipate heavenly bliss while still suffering earthly pain — and the skill of her music is to hold both in lyrical equipoise. The dying fall of a bird’s cry, the shudder of strings, and the distant spectre of the Dies Irae pervade and unify the three songs, carol-like in their simple intensity. Sampson gave eloquent voice to their troubled and finally calm, dark ecstasy. This cycle deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.
Hilary Finch, London Times,01/01/0001
Carolyn Sampson.... is otherwise the complete Mozart soprano, but she can also do modern, as she showed in Thea Musgrave's Journey into Light. Conceived as a companion to Exsultate, jubilate, period instruments and all, the 20-minute cycle avoids the voice's ugly regions; Sampson responded gratefully, living the mournful texts, not simply enunciating them. Musgrave made the most of the Academy's slightly acidic strings and pungent winds (including a pair of warbling oboes to evoke birds), the ideal bed on which Sampson's voice, now languid, now impassioned, could recline. Such a rare pleasure: new music that truly loves the voice.
Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard,01/01/0001
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