I wrote the CHACONNE for Double Choir to a commission from NELP Chorus with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and completed the score early this year. The text is taken from Psalm 122 and is a wonderful synthesis of resignation and rejoicing, The Latin version of the Psalm is used because the sonorities of the language suited my purpose better than any other.
The title of the work describes its fundamental structure. Four 2-note chords succeed each other, always in the same order, providing a continuously recurring harmonic progression. The music sets out from the note E, and just as the chaconne harmonies gradually emerge and develop outwards, so the opening 'a' vowel grows into the complete word 'alleluia' which is first heard when the basses of both choirs throw it from one to the other. Once this is established, the music takes on a somewhat chant-like and ritualistic character, eventually proceeding to several statements of the complete text of the work. This culminates in aloud and harmonically rich passage of chanting which the Chaconne harmonies re-emerge more audibly (they have always been present) and the work closes as it began. However, this time the held 'a' sound is the final vowel of 'alleluia', rather that the first, and the note E is heard in doubled octaves. Where the beginning of the piece was almost tentative, the end is now confident and joyous.
CHACONNE is dedicated to Michael Kibblewhite who conducted the first performance given by the NELP Chorus on Monday 13 July 1981 at the Queen Elizabeth Hal, London.
© Robert Saxton