• John McCabe
  • This Town's a Corporation Full of Crooked Streets (1969)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Madeley College of Education

  • tpt/9[+]perc/pf/philicorda/str(
  • children’s chorus & mixed choir
  • speaker, tenor
  • 40 min
  • Liverpool poets: Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten and others, children
  • English

Programme Note

1. Liverpool 8
2. Domestic Life
3. Nocturne
4. Dance of Death
5. Finale

This work is primarily for young people; more specifically, for young adults - in its attitudes towards war and morality, and in its moods of sentimentality and humour. The words are drawn from the works of Liverpool poets Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, and from a collection by Frank Shaw of Liverpool children's rhymes. Himself a Liverpudlian, John McCabe has put a great deal of affection for his native city into the work - most noticeably in the first movement, Liverpool 8, which describes 'this district of beautiful, fading, decaying Georgian terrace houses', with its motley population, dominated by the towering cathedral, and periodically assailed by 'the smell of breweries and engine oil from the ferry boats'.

The second movement is called Domestic Life, and, in the words of the composer, is a 'fun-piece', where the kitchen utensils are revealed to have a life of their own.

Nocturne is the title of the next movement, in which the composer powerfully evokes the atmosphere of 'the midnight hour', magically redolent of the ardour and candour of young lovers, whose shadowy forms at times emerge from, or merge with, the close-knit but delicately scored texture.

Dance of Death is an ironical view of the folly of war. The Dies Irae, with a macabre twist to its tail, introduces and punctuates the bizarre square-dance, which in turn melts into a touchingly beautiful setting for unaccompanied chorus of Sleep Now.

The finale is a kaleidoscopic rough and tumble of nonsense songs, which sweep away the mood of the previous movement with such outrages as 'Poor ould Billy Nitt', or 'One fine September morning, October in July'. The movement and the work culminate in a hymn-like setting, for all the available forces, of 'Non nobis solum, sed toti mundo nati' ('Not only for us, but unto the whole world born'), the motto of the Liverpool Institute, McCabe's old school. This is prevented from becoming too solemn by the later addition of the children's choir, rather like the defiant ghost of Petrouchka, singing the Latin words, but to the tune of 'Billy Nitt', in cunning augmentation.

© 1969 by John Pattinson