Publisher: Chester Music
commissioned by the 1973 Cheltenham Music Festival
Chester Music Ltd
The first performance of Antiphon was given by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner on Saturday 7 July 1973 at the Town Hall, Cheltenham. The work was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain.
This work is in two movements. Its title refers to the theme on which the second movement is based – a plainsong melody from the Antiphonal Romanum. Although this is not heard in its entirety until the second movement, it is foreshadowed in various places earlier on, as, for example, in the slow introduction with which the work begins. This opening runs, without a break, into an Allegro that forms the central part of the movement and finally leads up to a restatement of the beginning section which, this time, dies away, coming to rest on the chord with which the work began.
The second movement is in the form of a theme followed by five variations. The plainsong tune is a setting of the text ‘Laetamini in Domino, et exultate justi’. It appears first played by the violas. The two variations that follow are similar in that they use only the beginning of the theme but otherwise form a complete contrast to each other, the first being slow and sustained and the second fast and rhythmical. Variation three is again slow but based on a different section of the plainsong, while the fourth variation (Allegro) exploits the contrast between the rising whole tone and the rising semitone that is a feature of the theme. In the last variation almost the whole tune is played in the bass while the upper parts provide a descant to it.