Commissioned by Oxford Contemporary Music Festival

  • SATB
  • Mezzo Soprano
  • 20 min

Programme Note

I had long been interested in writing a piece for voices and instruments. When I was invited to compose a new work for the New London Chamber Choir, it hastened me into discovering a compositional direction for this rich combination of forces. It was while I was studying Tallis's sublime setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah that I was first drawn into the dark melancholy and expressive beauty of the language in these Old Testament writings, and I decided to use the first two verses from Chapter I in transliterated Hebrew as the basis for my new piece.

After a long and meditative choral-instrumental introduction, setting "Eichá", the first word of the Lamentations, the piece dissolves into a fractured, almost ritualistic discontinuity of complex chordal polyphonies. This elaborate texture articulates the text in a series of constantly transforming "sound modules", creating a vast aural landscape of a desolate and ruined city. In juxtaposition to this choral music, the solo mezzo-soprano appears (accompanied by wind and brass quintets). Briefly at first, but gradually and throughout the piece, this vocal line unfolds and the poetry is finally given direction and expression as a flowering musical continuity.

Eichá is scored for solo mezzo-soprano, chorus and an instrumentation almost identical to that used in Stravinsky’s Mass; 2 oboes, English horn, bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 trumpets and 3 trombones. The piece was commissioned by Oxford Contemporary Music Festival with funding from Southern Arts.

© Simon Bainbridge