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Mark Adamo

Publisher: G. Schirmer

No. 10: Supreme Virtue (2000)
Publisher
G Schirmer Inc
Category
Chorus a cappella / Chorus plus 1 instrument
Year Composed
2000
Duration
6 Minutes
Chorus
SATB-SATB, a cappella
Language
English
Availability
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Programme Note
Mark Adamo No. 10: Supreme Virtue (2000)
Text:
"Tao te Ching," trans. Stephen Mitchell

Composer Note:

For a few years I was the tenor section leader of a choir in Washington, and in singing with and composing for them I'd become more and more interested in the quasi-instrumental vocal gesture. Stephen Mitchell's pellucid translation of this verse of the "Tao te Ching" — a series of moral challenges all beginning with the words "Can you?" — spurred me to explore this idea at length. The singers, divided into two SATB choirs, intone the first question in a dusky C-minor against a sighing backdrop of wind sounds: then, as the first choir utters the text's first challenge, the second choir refracts their words into marimba-like repeated notes, as if the long lines of the first choir were subjected to a kind of aural strobe.

As the questions become tougher, so do the sounds: tenors and altos stab into the texture with horn-like interruptions, and the phrase "Can you?" disrupts the unwavering four-four pulse with insistent threes and twos. At a peak of intensity, a looping soprano-alto line spirits us away from pulse and chord, leading first to a melodic meditation based on the vowels of "Can you?" and then to a cadenza, in which chords appear and vanish into a shimmering, ever-present curtain of sound. A vision of equanimity is intoned in the open fifths of (both Western and Eastern) chant: then, as if elated by its discovery ("This is the supreme virtue") the chorus reworks its "Can you?" motive: a nudging half-step expands to a whole step, the harmony brightens to B-flat, and, in rhythms now more jubilant than insistent, the score spins to closure.

— Mark Adamo


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