• Nico Muhly
  • The Faire Starre (2018)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

VocalEssence, Philip Brunelle, Artistic Director; Trinity Wall Street, Julian Wachner, Music Director; and Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, Artistic Director

  • 2ob(ca)1percpf(cel)2vn.va.vc
  • SATB
  • 20 min
  • Nico Muhly
  • Thomas Traherne; John of Grimsetone (Trans Eleanor Parker); Richard Crashaw

Programme Note

The Faire Starre is a nativity cantata in three parts. Parts I and III set nativity poems by Richard Crashaw and Thomas Traherne, framing a longer central section setting of a lullaby compiled by John of Grimestone in 1372. The first Part, setting The Rapture by Traherne, is fiery and bright, and dissolves into abstraction, asking the question “Who raised? Who mine / did make the same? What hand divine?” I was drawn to the text of Part II by the medievalist Eleanor Parker, who points out that the text is curious for two reasons: it is framed by an unnamed and lonely narrator, who has a vision of a mother and her child, who are never named. We slowly learn that this is Mary and Jesus, and he asks her to sing him a lullaby. In doing so, she narrates realistically her terrifying encounter with Gabriel, and the night of Christ’s birth. There is a false ending here, a set of three chords repeated in a wild, romantic way. At that point, the lullaby flips around, and Jesus then foretells his life, from teaching in the temple to crucifixion and resurrection. The refrain, “lullay, lullay, la, lullay, my dere moder, lullay” which appears often in my setting, repeats the text in the traditional fashion, but the melody itself bends as the prophecy gets darker, and then, at the end, releases into a pure and pastoral F-major lilting version. After the large structure of Part II, Part III begins with wordless pulses from the chorus, and an insect-like collection of gestures in the winds and strings. The text implies that mankind used to look towards the heavens, but that now, Mary shows us that heaven is to be found in her downwards glance towards the child on her lap. The ecstatic, romantic chords from Part II appear, but here fragmented and dissolving back into steady pulses.