• 02(ca)02/0100/timp(perc)/org/str
  • SATB
  • soprano, alto, tenor, bass
  • 20 min

Programme Note


Paul Steinitz has remained a strong musical influence on me, as well as a close personal friend, for nearly 25 years. His unique mixture of enthusiasm and scholarship in his approach to the music of J S Bach has been an inspiration both to performers and audiences alike, but it is often forgotten that his musical tastes are far more wide-ranging than just the Baroque, and, in particular, he has always been a great advocate of contemporary music of all styles, and many young British composers can be grateful to him for giving their works a first London hearing. It was, therefore, with enormous pleasure and pride that I accepted this commission from the London Bach Society to write a work to celebrate Paul's 75th birthday.
The model for The Vision of Saul was the cantatas of Bach. Though the work runs continuously, it is conceived in five separate movements, but some thematic cross-references help to give unity to the whole. In a more overt way there is further indebtedness to Bach in both the scoring (oboe, bassoon, trumpet, organ and strings with the addition of some percussion) and in the use of quotations from the St Matthew Passion (the work perhaps most
closely associated with Paul) and Cantata No 127 (first performed on 11 February 1625).
The text, drawn from a variety of sources, deals with the conversion of St Paul, from his time as a young man persecuting the early Christian Church (including witnessing the death of St Stephen), to his dramatic experiences on the road to Damascus, his blindness and subsequent acceptance of the Christian faith. The five movements are as follows:
1 Psalm - a setting of Latin psalm texts about persecution.
2 Prayer - the visionary words of St Stephen spoken before his martyrdom, set for solo alto, with the choir commenting in the words and music of the chorale 'Wer hat dich so geschlagen' from the St Matthew Passion. The chords which end the movement are taken directly from Cantata 127 where the words appropriately were 'Bis wir einschlafen seliglich' ('until we blissfully fall asleep').
3 Interlude - an orchestral development of music from the first movement.
4 Scene - the incident on the road to Damascus, including a paraphrase of the arioso with chorale, 'OSchmerz', from the St Matthew Passion. Reference is also made to my earlier
work written for the London Bach Society, the 'Three Mediaeval Lyrics'.
5 Sonnet - a setting for soloists and chorus, in the form of a Prelude, Fugue and Passacaglia.

THE VISION OF SAUL was commissioned by the London Bach Society and Steinitz Bach Players with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and was completed in September 1983.
The first performance was given on 11 February 1984 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, by Elizabeth Lane (soprano), Paul Esswood (counter tenor), Kenneth Bowen (tenor) and Peter Savidge (bass) with the London Bach Society and Steinitz Bach Players conducted by Paul Steinitz.