Songs of Prophecy

In my last post, andante down the lazy river I mentioned that I was starting a Christmas Cantata. It’s basically done, and I’m rather pleased by the results. Of course, if I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be done, or wouldn’t see the light of day! The reason it took so long (5 days) was that I did have to eat and sleep…not to mention make some music at church, teach an organ lesson, and do those pesky chores that just mount up and make the environs miserable until you pay attention to them…

The piece is called Songs of Prophecy. It uses 8 of the texts that Jennens, the librettist of Handel’s Messiah included in what we know as the Christmas portion. I’ve long wanted to make my own work on the whole set of Messiah texts, but wisely set a less lofty goal for this piece.

Jennens generally has a very nice recitative, song, chorus form that focuses and organizes things very well. I totally ignored that form, although roughly speaking solo or soli voice alternates with chorus–but no real recitative.

I know, you’d like examples, and I don’t have time right now. OK, here’s one score excerpt:
And it sounds roughly like this mp3 without any editing or real balancing of voices (the first violin is a bit shrill on my computer).

My intent was to write a piece we could use in worship, so I wanted it under 20 minutes (I’m at about 16 and a half). In addition to satb chorus, I wrote for string quartet and handbells. I was fascinated how that altered my usual textures. I tended to opt for repeated peals, open harmonies, and a good degree of pentatonic writing.

This was just plain fun to write. I couldn’t wait to get up and start writing to see how the next movement was going to come out. It has its derivative elements: African choral music, minimalism, Orff, and I also hear Adams (this Adams, that is), particularly from my Needham Psalter. The combination of chorus, strings and handbells is wonderful.

I’ll post more soon on this project. I’m preparing a table comparing the use of the texts in Handel’s piece and mine; I’d like to say something about each movement and how I felt the text flowed from movement to movement. And so on. And, as you would expect:

It’s music to my ears…

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2 Responses to Songs of Prophecy

  1. AndyT13 says:

    I’m getting into the rhythm of your posting now. I hadn’t looked in a while and now that I did I see you posted just yesterday. Lovely piece! Can’t wait to hear the live version. I especially like that rising line throughout. It’s quite, you should pardon the pun, uplifting. Good work!
    I’m performing tonight. After all these years you’d think I’d be more relaxed but I inevitably have that awful stage fright until the first few notes. Once I’m in the groove it just gets deeper and wider but OY! I get so nervous beforehand! Sheesh!

  2. Robert Train Adams says:

    Even after the additional “all these years” that I’ve accumulated (and I started performing when I was 5, so I have quite a few “all these years”) I can get butterflies–even on a Sunday morning. Especially a month ago, when I was not only doing my usual music stuff, but preaching. And jsut as you said, once one gets the groove going, all is well.

    I’m glad you liked the rising line. I put it in initially for a practical purpose: I wanted the sopranos on the high “A,” but felt that they would be happier, and sing more strongly, if they had a line that helped them approach the “A.” Poulenc, in one of his Christmas motets, did something similar but simpler: d-d-a on the word Gloria with dotted eight-sixteenth rhythm. I got my riff from a Passereau madrigal (Il est bel et bon), long a favorite of mine. Once it happened, and the alto imitation took place, it was all done but the singing. Finish the phrase, write a contrasting section, return to the opening material, then move away by a third (relative major even though Iwas already in major, not minor), develop the contrasting material, and eventually return to the opening material for a grand overall ABA form. All of that from the rising line!

    I should have more info and some additional mp3s soon.

    btw, I’m glad you’ve figured out the rhythm of my posting; it’s still not clear to me. I’m trying to get a couple of posts in each week, but occasionally the non-musical stuff takes over. It’s always good to get back to posting, because that means I’ve usually finished another piece or two.


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