The Marian Antiphons (2005-07)
Four Devotional Anthems for Large Ensemble with Obligato Instruments
- Salve Regina
- Alma Redemptoris Mater
- Ave Regina Caelorum
- Regina Coeli
Large Chamber Ensemble (15 Players): fl, ob, cl, bsn, tpt, tbn, hn, hp, pno, perc, vln (2), vla, vcl, db
fp. Salve Regina 26 April 2006; LCMG, Adrian Hull, Ben Hoadley (bsn), St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London, UK.
Score is available to purchase here.
Salve Regina (2006) (mp3)
The Marian Antiphons represent the longest and most involving work that I have to date ever written, they are the culmination of two years of composition, and many years of fascination. They signify years of experimentation with formal schemes, melodic lines, extra-musical inspirations and relationships to existing material.
I had long been fascinated by the four antiphons for the Virgin Mary maybe as some form of latent Catholicism, or maybe as some seed of long-forgotten music history lessons; in any respect I had sought to use these plainchants in some way to compose a new work. I had always imagined writing an instrumental version, rather then a choral or vocal setting; this seemed a little strange to many, but the idea of writing an instrumental anthem or motet seemed a more original way to use these antiphons (with choral settings already existing from Dufay to Howells there seemed little point). When the opportunity to write a work for the LCMG came along, the large-ensemble grouping seemed the perfect opportunity to begin work on my instrumental anthems.
The idea of writing for solo instruments and ensemble was a happy coincidence: unaccompanied lines within works has always been a compositional preoccupation of mine, so when the LCMG’s bassoonist Ben Hoadley suggested I write him a concertante work it all seemed to fit into place. Thus The Marian Antiphons was conceived: each of the four works would be based on the eponymous antiphon and would be for a different solo instrument from the ensemble (of fifteen players), each time highlighting a different relationship between solo and ensemble. I then decided that each of the solo instruments would be from the different instrumental families within the ensemble (woodwind, brass, strings, percussion), thus highlighting not only the difference between each of my antiphons, but also the instrumental colourings and sonorities available.
Each of the antiphons relate to a different part of the Catholic Church year, so Salve Regina is from Trinity Sunday to Advent Sunday, Alma Redemptoris Mater (First Sunday of Advent to the Purification), Ave Regina Caeolrum ( Purification to Holy Thursday) and Regina Coeli (Easter Sunday to the Friday after Pentecost). Therefore I had a preset order and focus for my works, it seemed logical that the first (for Ben and the LCMG) would be Salve Regina.
In Salve Regina the relationship between soloist and ensemble is similar to that of cantor and congregation, the bassoon and the rest of the ensemble never play together rather the ensemble play a section of music and then the bassoon (accompanied only by a bass drum) comments on it, interweaving themes and fragments from the section and introducing new ideas that the ensemble will develop in the next section. In Alma Redemptoris Mater the horn provides a similar but different role, again accompanied only by percussion (tam-tams and bells) it provides a prelude, interlude and postlude to the instrumental ‘episodes’, but crucially playing material that in no way relates to the ensemble’s material (other then it being derived from the same source material). In Ave Regina Caeolrum the viola acts in a more conventional concertante way as the principal voice always at the forefront of the musical texture. The work is bound together by four refrains that occur, each time the same melody and harmony, but introducing more of the instruments until a full-ensemble texture is achieved. In Regina Coeli there is no principal solo voice, the piano remains tacit for the entire work highlighting an important missing voice and sonority.
The Marian Antiphons finishes with a simple coda for the four solo voices from each of the antiphons: over slowly tolling piano chords each instrument provides a fragment of its respective antiphon briefly exchanging in some understated counterpoint before fading away.