Commissioned by Nicholas and Pamela Fisher as part of ‘Joubertiade 2007’, a nationwide series of concerts in celebration of the composer’s eightieth birthday.
i. Of a rose, a lovely rose
ii. Make we joy now in this feast
iii. I sing of a maiden
iv. When Christ was born of Mary
v. Let us gather hand in hand
My Five Songs of Incarnation were composed in a response to a commission through Joubertiade 2007 for a work to be performed by the choir of New College, Oxford, at a concert in St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, to be given as part of the celebrations of my eightieth birthday. The brief was to compose a work both suitable for the seasons of Advent and Christmas and incorporating in some way the opening words of St John’s gospel as they appear in the New Revised Standard Version. The work was to be about twenty minutes in length and written for unaccompanied chorus, utilising, if I wished, the tenor solo already engaged for the performance of Britten’s St Nicolas in the second half of the programme.
My solution to the specific requirements of this commission was to go back to a sequence of carols I had already composed for solo voices, my Five Carols for Solo Voices, which had been first performed in 1973. These are all settings of medieval carol texts in modern translations which I felt would accord well with the modern translation of the St John text required by the commission. In addition to the extensive revision of four of the carols, I replaced the existing central one by a new setting of ‘I sing of a maiden’, another medieval carol in modernised form. The St John words, set for solo tenor, were distributed between the carols in such a way as to form links which make the work a continuous whole, with the gospel passages acting as prefaces to the carols they precede.
Musically the carols are arranged to form an arch, with the two outer ones linked thematically, the refrain of the first becoming a ‘ground’ for the last. The second and fourth are lively, retaining some aspects of the popular roots from which the carol as a form originally sprung. The middle carol is central not only in its place in the arch, but in its message of the miraculous nature of the Incarnation.
In a note to the published score I point out that the individual carols of the sequence can be performed as separate items in a programme, with or without their appropriate preface.
Five songs of Incarnation is dedicated to Nick and Pam Fisher.
Programme note © 2007 John Joubert