• John McCabe
  • Two Latin Elegies (1991)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Evans Arts Trust

  • treble(tenor)rec/vc.hpd
  • Countertenor
  • 7 min

Programme Note

This short work was commissioned by the Evans Arts Trust in memory of George Davies, and is based on two Latin texts, Catullus's elegy at his brother's grave and the well-known, anonymous Hymn for Compline, Te lucis ante terminum. The melodic material is derived from two phrases in the Fifth Pavan from William Byrd's collection My Lady Nevell's Book.

Linking the two songs is an interlude for the three instrumentalists (recorder, cello and harpsichord) in which the first of the William Byrd phrases, which has saturated the first elegy, gives way to the second, which dominates the hymn. The mood of the music is sustainedly reflective, with mostly quiet dynamics and a melodic line for the counter-tenor that, while derived from the Byrd material, also has a chant-like atmosphere.
© Copyright 1991 by John McCabe

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
Advenio has miseram, frater, ad inferias,
Ut te postramo donarem munere mortis
Et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem,
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit impsum,
Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.

Nunc tamen interea haec prisco quae more parentum
Tradita sunt tristes munera ac inferias,
Accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale. [CATULLUS]

Te lucis ante terminum,
Rerum creator, poscimus
Ut solita clementia
Sis praesul ad custodiam.

Procol recedant somnia
Et noctium phantasmata,
Hostemque nostrum comprime
Ne polluantur corpora.

Praesta, pater omnipotens,
Per Jesum Christum Dominum,
Qui tecum in perpetuum
Regnat cum sancto spiritu. [ANONYMOUS]

from the Penguin Book of Latin Verse, Penguin Books (© Copyright 1962, Frederick Brittain]

Borne through many peoples and over many seas, I come, my brother, to these sad rites, to perform the last obsequies and speak in vain to your silent ashes; for fate has snatched thee, even thee, away from me. Alas! my brother, so cruelly torn from me, accept at least these funeral gifts, much bedewed with a brother's tears, which, by ancestral custom, have been laid here as offerings to the dead; and for ever, brother, hail and farewell.

Before the ending of daylight, creator of all things, we pray thee to be our keeper and protector with thy wonted kindness.

May all dreams and phantoms of the night be far from us. Restrain our enemy, so that our bodies may not be defiled.

Keep us, almighty Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with the holy Spirit, reigns with thee for ever.


Two Latin Elegies
Six by Four: 2. When Icicles hang by the Wall
Crabbed Age and Youth: 2. Let us not that Young Men be