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Simon Bainbridge

Publisher: Novello & Co

Chant (1999)
commissioned by the BBC
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
18 Minutes
Programme Note
Simon Bainbridge Chant (1999)
I have often found that writing a piece for a specific acoustic and architectural space can provide the composer with enough initial aural stimuli to set off a torrent of musical ideas. I visited York Minster late last year and came away with the beginnings of a strange "antiphonal" sound world that I felt would suit the grandeur of this magnificent building.

My solution was to take as my raw material Hildegard of Bingen's monody hymn "Ave Generosa". The fluidity and invention of the original musical line became the starting point for a series of compositional decisions. I began by melodically developing the original monody and then subjecting it to a process of "spatialised" heterophony where the line is fractured and heard at six different speeds. Through a process of juxtaposition, Hildegard's original and my reworking are realised by using an amplified ensemble of 12 voices (4 sopranos, 4 altos and 4 tenors) which are electronically routed to any of the 7 loudspeaker locations within the Minster, creating a kaleidoscope of changing vocal perspective. The voices are accompanied by a large instrumental ensemble which sets up a distant veiled resonance to the chant throughout the duration of the piece.


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  • 04 SEP 2002
    Chant London Premiere
    BBC Proms
    Royal Albert Hall
    BBC Singers/ City of London Sinfonia
    Stephen Cleobury, conductor

"...Bainbridge's Chant, a BBC Millenium commission written for York Minster's holy spaces. The amplified voices of 12 solo voices echoed from seven loudspeakers. Droning strings and other instruments ducked and weaved or built up in layers. The springboard for every note is a hymn to the Virgin by the 12th-century wonder Hildegarde of Bingen; she should almost be credited as co-composer. Ecstatic and static both at once, the sounds spun some magic..."
Geoff Brown, The Times,06/08/2004
"...Wednesday's late-night concert by the BBC Singers with the city of London Sinfonia under Stephen Cleobury saw the London premiere of Simon Bainbridge's Chant, a 1999 commission designed for the vast space of York Minster. With its 12 amplified voices beaming in n the audience from all directions, it made a striking impression in the Albert Hall, though it's use of the plainchant Ave Generosa by the 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen seemed atmosphere-inducing..."
George Hall, Daily Telegraph,06/08/2004
Bainbridge transforms Hildegard's chant into a cascade of chromaticism and embellishes it with modernist clusters…The music moves with infinite subtlety from unadulterated plainchant to electronic fantasy; as if the past is leaking through the pores of the present…there was a numinous thrill in this music.
Tom Service, The Guardian,06/09/2002
"Bainbridge's hauntingly austere Chant, commissioned for a performance in York Minster in 2000, paid magical homage to the 12th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen, with 12 singers gently metamorphosing and decorating a piece by her over a subtle orchestral layer, their voices transported to speakers set around the auditorium as if mysticaly disembodied."
Stephen Pettitt, The Evening Standard,05/09/2002
Chant takes as its cue the music of the 12th-century Abbotess Hildegard of Bingen, specifically the monodic votive hymn for the Blessed Virgin, "Ave, generosa". The Bainbridge develops, drawing on its qualities of fluidity, but also breaking the line into distinct, long-breathed phrases, so that the piece consists of a sequence of self-contained statements, a ritual whose aesthetic, but not its sound, bears some relationship to the spiritual minimalism of Arvo Pärt… The effect was mesmerising, creating a timeless sculptural structure, at one level static, at another flowing. This was the perfect location for the work.
Stephen Pettitt, The Financial Times,01/11/1999
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