• Geoffrey Burgon
  • Dos Coros (1975)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the BBC

  • twelve solo voices
  • twelve solo voices
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Dos Coros was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the BBC Northern Singers in 1975. It is a setting for twelve solo voices of two poems by the 16th century Spanish mystic poet St John of the Cross. St John is considered to be one of the greatest mystic poets because of his ability to capture in words what is usually considered to be inexpressible – mystical experience. He does this through a variety of means including the use of the imagery of erotic love, and his poetry is full of the intense excitement he felt about his experience of union with God. However, the word God is rarely used and not at all in the two poems set here. Another paradox is that he is able to express serenity through imagery usually associated with speed or turmoil – rushing water, flight, even drunkenness.

Dos Koros is in two contrasting sections, one very fast and the other very slow. The first section begins with the words ‘How well I know that fountain’s rushing flow. Although by night.’ The music is fast and, until near the end, very quiet. It attempts to convey the image of the gushing spring, used here to symbolise eternal life, and seen clearly. ‘Although by Night.’ Three basses introduce the music, and they are in turn joined by tenors and altos. When the sopranos finally enter they are fortissimo, singing ‘The eternal source hides in the ‘Living Bread’, and the piece ends with the voices repeatedly whispering ‘Although by Night’.

The second movement is based on the poem called ‘Verses written after an ecstasy of high exaltation’ and begins ‘I entered in, I know not where. And I remained, though knowing naught’. Eight voices sing the opening words while the other four accompany them with dramatically with the words ‘Of peace and piety interwound/This perfect science has been wrought’ whilst the rest of the voices continue with their chordal music. A busier section for two altos and two sopranos follows and leads to a section where half the choir sing staccato against the legato music of the others. The music continues in this formal pattern until near the end, when all the voices unite in a dense harmonic passage. The music ends quietly, with the words ‘Transcending knowledge with my thought.’

The work is sung in the original Spanish and the translations quoted above are by Roy Campbell.

'Cantar del alma que se huelga de conoscer a Dios par fe'

Que bien sé yo la fonte que mana y corre,
Aunque es de noche.

Aquella eterna fonte está ascondida,
Que bien sé yo do tiene su manida,
Aunque es de noche.

Su origen no lo sé, pues no le tiene,
Mas sé que todo origen de ella viene,
Aunque es de noche.

Sé que no puede ser cosa tan bella,
Y que cielos y tierra beben de ella,
Aunque es de noche.

Bien sé que suelo en ella no se halla,
Y que ninguno puede vadealla,
Aunque es de noche.

Su claridad nunca es escurecida,
Y se que toda luz de ella es venida,
Aunque es de noche.

Sé ser tan caudalosas sus corrientes,
Que infiernos, cielos riegan, y las gentes,
Aunque es de noche.

El corriente que nace de esta fuente,
Bien sé que es tan capaz y omnipotente,
Aunque es de noche.

'Song of the soul that is glad to know God by faith'

How well I know that fountain’s rushing flow
Although by night

Its deathless spring is hidden. Even so
Full well I guess from whence its source flow
Though it be night.

Its origin (since it has none) none knows:
But that all origin from it arose
Although by night.

I know there is no other thing so fair
And earth and heaven drink refreshment there
Although by night.

Full well I know the depth no man can sound
And that no ford to cross it can be found
Though it be night

Its clarity unclouded still shall be:
Out of it comes the light by which we see
Though it be night.

Flush with its banks the stream so proudly swells;
I know it waters nations, heavens, and hells
Though it be night.

The current that is nourished by this source
I know to be omnipotent in force
Although by night.

'Coplas del mismo hechas sobre un éxtasis de alta contemplación '

Entréme donde no supe,
Y quedéme no sabiendo,
Toda sciencia trascendiendo.

Yo no supe dónde entraba,
Pero, cuando allí me ví,
Sin saber dónde me estaba,
Grandes cosas entendí;
No diré lo que sentí,
Que me quedé no sabiendo,
Toda sciencia trascendiendo.

De paz y de piedad
Era la sciencia perfecta,
En profunda soledad,
Entendida vía recta;
Era cosa tan secreta,
Que me quedé balbuciendo,
Toda sciencia trascendiendo.

Estaba tan embebido,
Tan absorto y ajenado,
Que se quedó mi sentido
De todo sentir privado;
Y el espíritu dotado
De un entender no entendiendo,
Toda sciencia trascendicndo.

El que allií llega de vero,
De sí mismo desfallesce;
Cuanto sabía primero

'Verses written after an ecstasy of high exaltation'

I entered in, I know not where,
And I remained, though knowing naught,
Transcending knowledge with my thought.

Of when I entered I know naught,
But when I saw that I was there
(Though where it was I did not care)
Strange things I learned, with greatness fraught.
Yet what I heard I’ll not declare.
But there I stayed, though knowing naught,
Transcending knowledge with my thought.

Of peace and piety interwound
This perfect science had been wrought,
Within the solitude profound
A straight and narrow path it taught,
Such secret wisdom there I found
That there I stammered, saying naught,
But topped all knowledge with my thought.

So borne aloft, so drunken-reeling
So rapt was I, so swept away,
Within the scope of sense or feeling
My sense or feeling could not stay.
And in my soul I felt, revealing,
A sense that, though its sense was naught,
Transcended knowledge with my thought.

The man who truly there has come
Of his own self must shed the guise;
Of all he knew before the sum.