• John McCabe
  • Aspects of Whiteness (1967)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • pf
  • SATB
  • 20 min
  • Herman Melville
  • English

Programme Note

Originally written in 1967 for the Aeolian Singers, who gave the first performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in that year, this Cantata was revised in 1969. The text is taken from the chapter in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick entitled The Whiteness of the Whale, and it is an exploration of the nature of the colour white and some of its significance for us. I suppose most musical compositions which set words are to some extent illustrative (though there are many other facets of this kind of composition which play an important part). In this piece, however, the pictorial element is of a rather different kind, if indeed it is pictorial at all. What fascinated me about these words was their sound and their texture, and the moods conjured up by these, and it is my response to this that is contained in the music.

The work is primarily harmonic in impulse, though the central part, which is quick, has a more obviously rhythmical basis. The opening section, for piano solo, introduces the main ideas of the piece, notably the opening white-note chords, and when the chorus enters, gradually building up a version of the first piano chord, they introduce a long slow section which is essentially a gradual inward movement from the extremes of the chord to a new discord. After the quick section which follows this, there is a piano cadenza, and the sections succeeding this tend to be shorter. The final part of the work reverts to the opening ideas, the piano concluding the music with a much abbreviated version of its opening section. The piece lasts in all about 20 minutes.

© Copyright 1991 by John McCabe