Magnificat III

for Four solo voices: alto, 2 tenors, baritone
May 2008

Magnificat III was commissioned by the East Neuk Festival for the Orlando Consort, who gave the first performance at St Monan’s Kirk, East Neuk, on 3rd July 2008. It lasts about 6½ minutes.

Programme note

My two previous settings of this text were made for full choirs. Magnificat I (1982) is for unaccompanied choir in sixteen parts; Magnificat II (2004) is for double choir, with organ accompaniment and an important solo soprano part. This third setting (in Latin like its predecessors) is nearer the first than the second  – but different from both, being scored for four solo voices. Because of the flexibility of this medium, I have placed Mary’s song in its liturgical context – the feast of the Visitation, which falls in early July, the date of this piece’s first performance. An introduction, based on three plainsong Antiphons from the second Vespers of the Visitation, describes Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Juda, where her cousin Elizabeth lived with Zachariah, her arrival and greeting, and the leaping of Elizabeth’s unborn child in her womb. My setting of the Magnificat itself uses the plainsong mode of the 4th Antiphon (extended to include eight notes and a dominant tritone) and transposes it through all its eight steps, returning to the home keynote at the end, where the words “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” are repeated over a muttered “Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros”. There is no coda, and the piece ends quite suddenly. For anyone interested in such things, the melodic material is derived almost entirely from the expanding number-matrix 1 – 2 – 4 – 7 – 3 – 8 – 6 – 5 – (1).

GS, June 2008