Commissioned by the Academy of Ancient Music

  • 0.2(ca).0.1/0+2Natural Horn.0.0.0/str(
  • soprano
  • 16 min

Programme Note

This work was commissioned as a possible companion piece to Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and the decision was quickly made to write something as a complete contrast. The poems chosen, one anonymous from the early 16th century, the other two by the famous Scottish poet William Dunbar [1460?-1513?], describe the promise of salvation after life’s dark passage. Each of the three poems echo this thought: "In celum, ther is joy with Thee", "A short torment for infinite gladness” and “Since erdly joy abides never, Work for the joy that lastès ever" Thus in each poem the poet can overcome the fear of his inevitable death with the certainty of salvation: this work also has its ‘dark’ moments, but the overall mood is one of calmness and peace.

As with the words there are several musical motives that link the three songs. The musical motive for the refrain "Terribilis mors conturbat me" in the first macaronic poem [also a salute to Mozart since the Exsultate is in Latin] returns a little higher and more despairingly in each verse until the last verse where it is played a whole octave higher. This motive reappears [played mostly by the oboes] in the last song but now the pitch of each repeat goes in reverse, that is, from high to low. The famous motive of the Gregorian chant Dies Irae [representing death] is used to accompany the prayer of the second song. A musical motive for the joy of Paradise appears in the second song "A free choice given to Paradise or Hell".

There is also a ubiquitous 3-note chordal cluster which is used to illustrate the words: sometimes as a colour, and sometimes as articulation.

The bird of the last song "Thus sang ane bird with voice upplane"becomes several birds [oboes] singing in A major, but with a D sharp, thus the Lydian mode. However the refrain of this poem “All erdly joy returns in pane” is in F major. This alternation of F major / A major tonalities is a ‘structural’ feature which, is of course, heralded by Mozart in his "Exsultate Jubilate".

This work is thus written in homage to Mozart.

Thea Musgrave