Op.67g - Balaam Song Cycle: 7 A Salutation [SATB]
The genesis for this cycle came from Michael Balaam, formerly Chairman of the Suffolk Singers, a group with whom I have had the privilege of working for some years. He approached me in 2011 to write a song cycle for choir; he suggested the texts, and within a couple of weeks we had the working drafts. There are seven movements in total; the idea was to have it performed at Christmas 2011, so the texts have a dual Christmas purpose, but can be performed at any time.
I have used several devices to link the movements, particularly the notes of C, F, E, G and A; their combination as a pentatonic scale but also in repeated chords has provided a useful ’cloud’ of sound around which to base the works. Equally, I have not stuck rigidly to this harmonic idea at the expense of the compositional process.
The text is from a A letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513, by Fra Giovanni Giocondo
I salute you. There is nothing I can give you which you have not ; but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take. No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! And so, I greet you with the prayer that now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.
The author of this final text is listed as "a Renaissance pioneer, accomplished as an architect, engineer, antiquary, archaeologist, classical scholar, and Franciscan friar, mostly remembered for his reassuring letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513"; there is little evidence for what troubled the Countess so that such a beautiful text was required to calm her.
The opening flourish on the piano combines the music of the previous songs; a strong C in the bass is followed by the various tonal centres used throughout the cycle. Over a background similar to that of Infant Joy, the vocal line follows that of the second setting of Fleeting, God. Marked "sonore e molto legato", the choir sings through Fra Giovanni’s text in simple chords so that the meaning of the text comes through without complication. There are harmonic shifts at "Take Heaven" and "Take Peace", before moving through various keys to climax at "Take Joy". The piece finishes with the gentle repetitions of "now and forever the day breaks, and the shadows flee away", which build to a climax through a thick seven-part chords. Originally the cycle was to be completed with a setting of the Magnificat; instead, the chords build to a high tessitura on "flee away", finishing with the same chord as at the end of the Three Antiphons of Hildegard of Bingen.
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