33 - Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
J - Composition
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The work interrogates grief, loss and acceptance through sacred and secular texts, including a Jewish prayer for the dead, British and American secular verse (Thomas Blackburn, Alun Lewis, Wendell Berry) and quasi-religious prose by the Lebanese-born Kahlil Gibran. The music represents an empirical examination-through-practice of how close a modern composer can remain to 450-year-old principles while generating a new voice and, to paraphrase Stravinsky out of context, self-imposing constraints ‘in order to be set free’; also in framing a concertante instrumental solo as the ambiguous composite presence of both mourner and mourned – as the direct expression of grieving while also the remembered voice of the departed, offering hope of consolation. The instrumentation offers opportunities to switch ‘polarities’ at will, at times adopting a ‘cello concerto with choir accompaniment’ approach; at others subsuming the soloist into the choral bass (or other) line for purposes of reinforcement/highlighting, or mediating between antiphonally divided choirs.
Whereas Pott’s Eight-part Mass (2011) deployed cantus firmus technique, the new work may be unique amongst British contemporary sacred music in reverse-engineering the ancient principle of the ‘parody’ Mass, in this case reworking an imitative point and its consequences within Pott’s Five-part Mass (2004) as generative basis for expansion into long-range imitative paragraphs in Laudibus in Sanctis, the central 8-part motet of At First Light.
Models for arranging six slow movements around a pivotal, fast-moving motet include the 5-movement works of Bartók where, in contrast, he framed a central slow movement with balancing, lighter 2nd/4th movements. The slowing of harmonic momentum for homophonic repose gained insights from Shostakovich’s 15th string quartet, opus 144, Kancheli’s Mourned by the Wind (Liturgy for viola and orchestra), and music by Vasks, Penderecki, Górecki and Schnittke.
Recording premiere March 2019, released by Naxos label [8.573976] July 2020; score published Edition Peters, April 2020.