Commissioned by Cambridge University Music Society

First performed by Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Cleobury with soloist Teresa Cahill on 11th March 1995

  • 2(pic)222/4331/timp.perc/str
  • SATB
  • soprano
  • 18 min

Programme Note

The title Canticum Luminis sums up my thoughts and ideas over many years. My desire was to write for the Cambridge University Musical Society a piece which encapsulates my profoundly held belief that music, by its very nature, is religious in the broadest sense; I wanted to compose a song to praise in Latin, the language with which Western Europe achieved its musical zenith and which, for centuries, enabled communication across boundaries by artists, scientists and theologians. I also wanted to use the idea of light both literally and metaphorically, and this led me to select passages from Lucretius and Sir Isaac Newton, both of whom, seventeen centuries apart wrote on the nature of the universe by means of the supreme achievement of civilised thought - the light of Reason. Lucretius expounded the ideas of Epicurus, a philosophy which promotes the value of observed experience devoid of metaphysics and superstition. Newton, Cambridge University's - and universal science's - greatest figure while writing much on theological matters, achieve immortality through clarity of deduction and observation as applied to physical science.

Canticum Luminis sets Lucretius' and Newton's words separately, combining and superimposing them only in the last of its four linked movements. It is dedicated to the memory of my former Director of Studies at St Catherine's College, Dr Peter le Huray, who, in his self-effacing way and by example, urged his students to think clearly and behave rationally.

© Robert Saxton


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