• Peter Dickinson
  • The Judas Tree (1965)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 00001220timp.5percorg.pfstr
  • SATB
  • 5 Speaking Parts
  • 2 Tenors
  • 1 hr 15 min
  • Peter Dickinson
  • Thomas Blackburn
  • English

Programme Note

BRIEF SYNOPSIS

The work is concerned with that least understood protagonist of the Christian drama, Judas Iscariot. Judas hanged himself because he could not bear the guilt he had incurred by his betrayal of Christ. There is no reason why what is intolerable in time should not be tolerable in eternity; so in the first scene Judas lies prone in a state of complete withdrawal. Pilate, the detached observer, comments on his situation and suggests that ‘without contraries there is no progression’ and, he argues, Judas also furthered the kingdom of God. A priest performs Rites for the Dying by which the Church helps her children from time into eternity. The dark side of divine imagination is represented in the final scene by the presence of a Nazi commandant.

FULL SYNOPSIS

The Judas Tree was first produced by the students of the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea, in the College Chapel on May 27th, 28th and 29th 1965, producer James Smyth, and musical director Brian Wilson.

The work is concerned with that least understood protagonist of the Christian drama, Judas Iscariot. Judas hanged himself because he could not bear the guilt he had incurred by his betrayal of Christ. There is no reason why what is intolerable in time should be tolerable in eternity; so in the first scene Judas lies prone in a state of complete withdrawal. He will not feel or think because he dare not face the reality of the betrayal. Pilate, the detached observer, comments on his situation and suggests that without contraries there is no progression", and, in his strange way, Judas also furthered the Kingdom of God.

In the second scene, in order that Judas may break out of his coma and be "born into death", a priest performs over him those Rites for the Dying by which the Church helps her children to be born from time into eternity.

If Christ was the incarnation of the benevolence of God, perhaps one can think of no fuller showing forth of the dark side of the divine imagination than the Nazi regime. That is the reason for the Nazi Commandant in the final section. In order to expiate his crime and take his place in the scheme of eternity, Judas must undergo, and in recent terms, an experience comparable to the crucifixion of his Master.

The music demands two tenor soloists, a chorus of at least thirty mixed voices, and an instrumental ensemble of 2 violins, viola, cello and bass, 2 trumpets, horn, 2 trombones, organ and 5 percussion players including 3 timpani and piano. The score matches the complex streams of meaning with different types of sound. Each scene is introduced with abstract mood music, improvised according to plan, and the main acting parts, which are spoken, are sometimes supported with this kind of connecting illustration. Two tenor soloists share the function of narrator and commentator, and the chorus, which reacts to and meditates upon the drama, communicates with the audience in straightforward terms. Consequently the soloists' music has more technical difficulty than that of the chorus, which is mostly homophonic to allow the poetry to sound. The performing standard required in the string and brass groups, mostly used in blocks and perhaps separated in space, is moderate: the percussionists use every variety of readily available instrument and one or two original ones.

It is also possible to produce The Judas Tree as a play with incidental music. In this version the choral passages and those of the tenor soloists are spoken, the music being confined to introductory passages, interludes and background effects. The tape for use with this purely acting version may be hired from Novello and Co. Ltd.

PRODUCTION. Because the author, composer and producer worked closely together on the first presentation of this work, notes are given as to its production. However, fixed moves cannot be indicated. These must depend on the location of the drama and will alter according to the size and acoustical range of the chapel, theatre or church where it is played. It was discovered during the original production that in order to interpret the essential form of the drama, many of the moves must be stylised and action reduced to the significant minimum.

In the last scene the interchange between Judas and the Commandant can be allowed a more naturalistic interpretation. This does lend greater dramatic force, and contrasts with the more formal scenes which precede it.

COSTUME. In the original production Pilate was given modern evening dress. This brought out the nature of his character and speeches. The Dominican must, of course, wear the authentic habit of his order, and the Commandant and Peter must be dressed according to their modern role. To achieve the timelessness of Judas his dress must be anonymous and yet bring out the significance of his role. To suggest both the hunted fox and the royalty of the sacrificial victim he was dressed in a red robe. The script demands that Judas wear a mask. Its design will depend upon the producer but should be stylised rather than naturalistic. The Chorus should also be dressed with some anonymity although a contrast between the men and women will enhance the drama. If the chorus wear masks they should be stylised and formal. These masks should incorporate a headdress for both men and women.

Some moves and positions of the original production are indicated in the script, but the producer must follow his own judgement. It will depend on him whether Judas rests on a bier and whether an actual vessel is used for the Rite of Extreme Unction. A pall may cover Judas. There are practical difficulties here but it could increase the dramatic effect.

Details of the integration between music, speech and action, so essential to the full version of this musical drama, are given in the vocal score.
© Peter Dickinson

Discography