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John McCabe

Publisher: Novello & Co

Scenes in America Deserta (1986)
commissioned by the King's Singers
Text Writer
Reyner Banham
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus a cappella / Chorus plus 1 instrument
Year Composed
14 Minutes
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Programme Note
John McCabe Scenes in America Deserta (1986)
Scenes in America Deserta was commissioned by the King's Singers, to whom it is dedicated and who gave the first performance in Houston, Texas, in 1987. The text is from Reyner Banham's classic book of this title. It is the sixth in a series of works inspired by desert country in various parts of the world and written for different instruments or ensembles, including four numbered works with subtitles (Lizard for woodwind quartet and percussion, Horizon for brass, Landscape for piano trio, and Vista for recorder solo), in addition to which there is Pueblo for solo double bass. This vocal work is based on texts chosen not so much to convey the picturesque aspects of the desert (one of the hairiest decisions in composing it was decided to omit what I felt to be a particularly effective bit of musical scene-painting) but rather to touch on several different points: the nature of the colouring, the silence and the heat, of course, but also the human element in the man-made structure, decorations and pastimes.

The work is continuous, but falls into clearly-defined sections - the main aim of the music is to convey an idea of the variety and fascination which desert country holds for me. Although there are a few pictorial effects, I have used some of the colouristic textures produced by some of the syllables themselves as an integral part of the musical thinking. The piece lasts about thirteen or fourteen minutes.

© 1987 John McCabe

  • Ensemble
    The King's Singers
    Andrew Swaits, treb
    Signum Classics:
...subtly coloured vocal scene-painting...
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph (London),07/08/2008
...the graceful modernity of John McCabe's eloquent Scenes in America Deserta....
Geoff Brown, The Times (London),07/08/2008
John McCabe's Scenes in America Deserta, which sets texts by Reyner Banham evoking the colourful landscapes of the south-western US, provided a substantial challenge. Its vivd word setting and inventive vocal writing proved superbly atmospheric, and the [King's Singers'] centred performance was immaculate.
George Hall, The Guardian (London),07/08/2008
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