Vocal score for sale

  • 2(2pic)2(ca)2(bcl)2(cb)/4321/timp.2perc/hp/str
  • perc/org
  • SATB
  • soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone
  • 1 hr 2 min
  • Dickinson/Yeats/Jones/Whitman
  • English

Programme Note

The title of this work refers not only to the use of the words of St John the Divine, but also to the four poems that are set alongside them. These poems are all visionary and revelatory and deal either directly or by suggestion with ideas with by St John.

I have treated St John’s words as metaphorical and in the music I have tried to depict a state of mind, so far removed from everyday reality as to be all but uncomprehendable. A state which mystics of all ages have striven for by a variety of means, including solitude, fasting, and mind-expanding drugs. In the case of St John, I see this as a progressive process throughout Revelations beginning with a fairly straightforward statement and ending in a state of near delirious rapture. IT is this progress that I have tried to capture in the music.

The piece is conceived operatically rather than as a straight oratorio, in the sense that the Bach Passions are operatic, with the soloists taking roles rather than being anonymous voices. The baritone is John. The chorus participate in the drama and the tenor and soprano soloists can be seen as facets of John himself.

The work is in four parts, with an introduction. It begins with three massive chords heralding John’s first statement. Then the men’s voices in three-part harmony, symbolising the voice of God, command John to record his vision.

Part One – the Scroll unsealed deals with the opening of the seven seals. The story of the opening of all but the seventh seal is told by the chorus in a mainly hushed scherzo. An orchestral passage depicting ‘silence in heaven’ leads to the setting for tenor or Yeats’ The Cold Heaven, which deals with a vision of heaven, ‘riddled with light’. Next comes a unison chorus, accompanied by three sets of drums (which have an important role throughout the work) singing ‘And in those days shall men seek death’.

Part Two – The new Eve delivered tells of the struggle between the ‘new Eve’ and the ‘great dragon’. The story is introduced by John, then taken up by the chorus. The battle between the dragon and St Michael and his angels is depicted by a section for the drums, joined by the orchestra and leading to a ferocious climax which symbolises the defeat of the dragon. This leads to the setting for soprano of ‘Behind my dips eternity’ by Emily Dickinson, a poem depicting a serene and perfect heaven.

Part Three – The Fall of Babylon begins with the three groups of drums, plus timpani introducing John’s statement ‘I saw another sign in heaven’. This is taken up by the chorus telling of the spreading of God’s wrath. After a description of Babylon comes ‘But sweet sister death’ by David Jones, sung by the tenor. These lines, about the chaos and destruction of war, echo John’s lines of the destruction of Babylon, of which the chorus sing when they join the soloist towards the end of his passage.

Part Four – The Vision of New Jerusalem begins with first John, then the chorus, describing a vision of the Holy City. This is followed by a passage of Walt Whitman, ‘Darest thou now O soul, walk out with me toward the unknown region’ (words familiar through Vaughan Williams’ setting). These lines describe a state of mind rather than a place, but they have many echoes of John’s description of the Holy City. The work ends with John and the chorus affirming the power of their vision, accompanied by the whole orchestra.

Revelations was composed during 1984 and was commissioned by the National Federation of Music Societies with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.