Commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival with funds from the Arts Council

Study score available to buy

  • 22(ca)22/4331/timp.perc.glock.vib/pf/str
  • SATB
  • soprano, tenor, speaker
  • 36 min
  • 16c. Spanish Mystics, David Gascoyne, George Seferis

Programme Note

Ludus Amoris is an old mystical name for the game of hide and seek God plays with his subjects, now revealing himself, now disappearing from sight. This work is a work of commitment which, at the risk of seeming glib in an age of relativity, firmly and simply preaches a moral. Like Bach's Passions, it is dramatic in form. Like them too, the main protagonist is the crowd, common man, groping for a solution and experiencing the gamut of emotion from blind despair through urgent prayer to revelation. The turba is now a despairing multitude, now an Eliot-like cocktail party, now a Trafalgar Square demonstration canvassing false solutions, now a chorale-singing people exiled from their God, now a grey, numbed mass experiencing an eerie quiet. But through the ardour of the chorale prayers an awareness of God is eventually achieved, and the final chorus gives expression to it, together with a prayer for even closer mystical union.

The tenor soloist is one individual in this crowd, who gives utterance to more intimate experiences; the soprano, who enters only near the end, represents the soul as it begins to soar.

The main argument of the piece is a progression from despair to peace, from the absence of God to the presence of God; and the catalyst of the progression is the Preacher, a hermit of the desert, who quietly and persistently, and yet urgently, persuades men of the only true path to peace. His text (which is spoken) is selected from the writings of sixteenth century Spanish mystics.

The musical construction is made as follows. Imagine a strict, complex, combinatorial serial texture, symmetrical as a piece of modern architecture, and drop into it a Bach chorale. The Bach chorale occurs about three quarters of the way through, and all the music afterwards digests it, and moves slowly away again back to the arguments of the beginning, but in a much transformed mood.

The listener may also notice some of the ramifications of the 126 form; that is to say, something is followed by another thing twice as big, and then a third much bigger, six times. These proportions occur in all orders: 216, 621 etc. and apply to small note lengths, whole section lengths; also to the sizes of the intervals in the principal note-sets, and to aspects of the instrumentation. It is a little secret agent which comes primarily from the Bach chorale, which pervades and shapes throughout.

The work is dedicated to the composer's mother and father.


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