• John Joubert
  • The Martyrdom of St Alban (1968)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the St Albans Chamber Choir


  • 1111/1000/timp.perc/pf.org/str(
  • SATB
  • speaker, tenor, baritone
  • 35 min
  • Stephen Tunnicliffe
  • English

Programme Note

John Joubert: The Martyrdom of Saint Alban

Libretto by Stephen Tunnicliffe

Part 1

Narrator: The fourth century of Christian witness…
…the people of Christ are scattered.

Chorus: In a casual shrug we detect a sinister meaning;
A passing grip on the wrist is a metal band;
On a surface smooth the reflection hides our feelings;
The familiar asphalt path is a shifting sand.

The clouds blow down the wind, over the Chilterns.
The sheep are scattered.

Do we still control our limbs, or are our gestures
The empty galvanic jerks of a puppet's strings?
Does a smile mean more than a random twist of our features,
A pallid grimace to stifle the terror that clings?

The clouds blow down the wind, over the Chilterns.
The sheep are scattered.

Narrator: The Roman soldiers' footsteps…
…his new guests, his own flesh and blood.

Chorus: Where is the man who prays to a Jew?

Alban: I worship Jesus, the living God. It is I you seek.

Chorus: Reverberating solitude
Deafens our ears to urgent cries,
Yet joy in one has hope renewed
That truth will triumph over lies.

A simple gift to one in need
Can overset our selfish fears:
Gesture of love, a single deed
Can penetrate our deafened ears.

The blind grey screen will flicker back
Its mirrored emptiness of heart:
Give us the strength to feel our lack,
To know we cannot live apart.

Part II
Narrator: In a Roman temple…
…turns on Alban in his fury.

Magistrate: Stranger! Interloper! Who are you who dares to set his puny strength against the Emperor? From what family do you spring that you challenge the Roman gods?

Alban: It is not my family you are facing now. You face the truth of Christ, whose laws of love I joyfully embrace.

Magistrate: Your name, proud fellow! In Jove's name I demand it.

Alban: Albanus is the name my father gave me. In my own right I worship and adore the living God, the Everlasting Father who gave us all creation.

Magistrate: Fool! These altars here bear a Roman's only passport to eternity. Sacrifice to the gods now: I demand it!

Alban: This smoke is in the Devil's nostrils. No devil will help his worshippers except to the torments of hell. I pray you, cease your idol worship and join me in joyful prayer to Christ the King.

Magistrate: My words can ring with the might of Rome
In this alien land they reverberate,
The Emperor's voice, the law.

Alban: Clear and urgent the call:
Follow me and forsake all.

Magistrate: My words can crush into flesh, into bone.
In your stubborn ears they will penetrate,
Your Emperor's voice, your law.

Alban: Clear and compelling the cry:
Follow! My Lord, here am I!

Magistrate: Mere words! Submit as a Roman should.

Alban: Such sacrifice would be blasphemy.

Magistrate: You blaspheme now. Jove's law is good.

Alban: I have banished it from my memory.

Alban ) I'll break your stubborn will with torture's agony.
Christ's joy is with me still; I'll share his agony.

Alban ) Torturer, bend his pride!
Through torment my faith is tried.

Narrator: With an oath, the magistrate…
…his passport to immortality in Christ.

Chorus: The iron voice, the bitter smart
Of stinging tongues we dread to hear;
We shrink within our frozen heart;
The same voice echoes there.

The brutal fist, the hard grimace,
Arouse our pity and our fear;
We yearn towards a lover's face;
The same fist batters there.

The stabbing blow, so coldly planned,
Can show us that we ought to care:
We try to clasp a proffered hand;
The same wound rankles there.

The answer to our hopeless quest
Is unanimity of prayer:
We pray that, as in Alban's breast,
The same joy enters here.

Part III
Narrator: In the bright light of day…
… the voices are stilled.

Alban: This is my appointed hour, and my Master's chosen place. See how his creatures the flowers bear witness to this moment. See how his servant, water, flows at my bidding. My friends of Verulamium, the sparks struck out from this sword shall today kindle our city into a beacon, claiming Britain for Christ.

Illuminate, O Christ my God
The blinded sight,
And let me be your pilgrim, shod
With healing light.

Penetrate, O Christ my King
The deafened ear.
Make me your trumpet, echoing
Your message clear.

Open your arms, O Christ my Dear,
And welcome me,
That as a suitor I may bear
My soul to Thee.

Narrator: Dazzled by the light…
…blinded by God's presence.

Chorus: Gone is the groping blindness,
Quickened sight is ours.
We are not seeking further,
Here are myriad flowers.
Now quickened sight is ours.

Melting, our frozen senses
Feel the flame of truth.
Bitterness chills no longer,
Nor is violence proof
Against the flame of truth.

Here among chalky hillsides
Blood shines like a rose,
Spilling on sombre beechwoods,
Liquid light that glows;
This blood is Alban's rose.