Ave verum corpus was written in November 2003 for Tim Brown and the choir of Clare College, Cambridge; it lasts slightly under three minutes. My aim was to recreate what composers of Monteverdi’s period called la prima prattica – the strict contrapuntal style reserved for sacred music, as distinct from the secular, dance-based style of la seconda prattica. The opening two-part ‘point’ for soprano and alto weaves its way smoothly downwards from an upward leap of a fifth, the lines closely intertwined. It is answered by two jerky phrases from tenor and bass. The smooth material reappears – this time in four parts, with the voice-entries moving downwards from soprano to bass. The jerky music is now heard in soprano and alto, and is followed by a reprise of the four-part smooth counterpoint – but inverted, with the voices entering from the bass upwards. The jerky music reappears in four-part form (soprano and alto in canon with tenor and bass), which brings the piece to a climax at the words mortis examine. After a short silence, the smooth contrapuntal music returns, and a modified version of the opening brings the piece to a close.
Giles Swayne 2010