Three Choruses to words by James Clarence Mangan:
It was during a flight back to England from Dublin, having just picked up a book of Irish poetry, that I was first attracted to the work of James Clarence Mangan, the Dublin-born poet who died in 1849 at the age of 46 after a tragic struggle against a catalogue of misfortunes. His work immediately impressed me with its characteristically Irish rhetorical power and vivid imagery, and at its best it seems to me to have a powerfully visionary quality that is superbly controlled yet forcefully spontaneous. The first of these three unaccompanied choruses to be written was Motet, commissioned by the Chichester 904 Festivities for George Guest and the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, to whom it is dedicated - it was composed in 1979. The text is a poem entitled Gone in the Wind, but I chose to call it Motet because I felt this title conveyed particularly the strength and powerful severity of its utterance.
Siberia, dedicated to Stephen Wilkinson, was commissioned for the 1980 Cork International Choral Festival, and was first performed by Stephen Wilkinson and the William Byrd Singers of Manchester. Still particularly obsessed with death, pain, and the implacable forces of nature, this poem seemed slightly more intimate in tone, something reflected in the musical setting.
Visions, dedicated to Clive Wilson, is a conflation of two different Mangan poems, And Then No More and Shapes and Signs. The contrast between the two is considerable, but it seemed to me that in their different ways they dealt with contrasting aspects of a dream-like world, and they are once more strongly evocative of Mangan's highly personal and emotional world. The commission for the 1984 Harrogate International Festival gave me the opportunity, with this work, to fulfil a long-held ambition to write something for the BBC Northern Singers.
Though not obligatory, the preferred order for performance of the choruses is: Visions, Siberia, and finally Motet.
© Copyright 1991 by John McCabe