A quick redesign of the blog has made it easier to read, I think. For all the moody black and grey there was a real problem in reading the entries in the old design, so I’ve chosen a more immediately friendly template, which looks modern and functional. I have also started picking up some new readers, according to my stats, so welcome to you, whoever you are and wherever you have come from. I hope you find enough of interest here to return and catch up.
I have one premiere lined up this month, the Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis on G, which will be performed in Chichester Cathedral on the 27th. Unfortunately I won’t be there, as I will committed elsewhere, probably sitting at the very same table where I wrote the piece this time last year. The idea for the piece came next to a castle in Tuscany(!) – I was asked whether I had any Mags & Nuncs to spare. I hadn’t written one since 1992. That was the (ahem) prize winning setting ‘on E’, most recently performed at the closing service of this year’s London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. I really felt the need to write a new one, and so began work on the new setting. The choir who will perform the work is a group of those brave souls who travel to various Cathedrals and fill in while the official choir is on holiday, amateurs in the true sense of the word. Thus the new piece was going to have to survive on moderate rehearsal, but couldn’t be too ‘out there’ in terms of language. As it happens, this was an ideal scenario because I hope to send this piece out to various places after the summer and would hope for it to become a part of some Cathedral’s or choir’s repertoire somewhere.
There are many settings of the text of the Magnificat, especially in the Victorian era, which only note the more broad brush emotions of the inner sections (‘he hath shewed strength with his arm’ and so on) while totally ignoring the fact that the song is sung from the point of view of a young and presumably quite overwhelmed girl. Only settings such as Stanford in G, Leighton’s 2nd and Howells’ Gloucester Service really respond in what I think is the correct way. I really wanted to communicate that fact in this piece, and so the arc traversed by the Magnificat is one of doubt to assertion and then back again, within a broadly tonal span. I’m pleased by the way I’ve used the material here, as it is fairly economical, but the proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating, or performing, in this case.
The Nunc takes a similar point of view, words spoken by an old man who is struggling to get them out. The Tippett St. John’s service is exemplary here – within its modern language the old man cannot finish his text, so angelic voices have to take it up for him. My language here is darker, in contrast with the sometimes giddy expectation of the first movement, here there is struggle with an element of relief.
This is my fourth Mag & Nunc, and it joins the ‘on E’ and ‘on D’ settings from my early twenties. There is also another I wrote when I was 13, in the style of Howells. I found it in a pile of old manuscripts a few months back, and was slightly taken aback at what I’d written. As a chorister I remember finding Howells difficult to sing, but his death in 1982, when I was 12, had obviously caused me to take stock. Although the piece rather runs out of puff once or twice, and could legitimately be described as derivative in many ways, it’s a pretty decent pastiche, and sometimes I wonder whether all that joy of writing became buried under too much technique at times.
Well, maybe it didn’t. I had obviously been inspired after John Sanders had chosen to give me my first public performance, and, even then, was utterly determined to be a composer. Even now, 29 years on from that first airing, I still feel the need and desire to write. Performances may be more frequent, but each and every one is important. Most important of all for me, though, is that the listeners and performers enjoy it. I hope that the new Mag & Nunc hits the spot.
As with much of my work, if you’d like to see a score of this piece, then all you have to do is drop me an email. You can make as many copies of it as you like and even pass it on to friends (or enemies), all for free. The only catch is that I will probably add you to my mailing list, although, as this is just one email a month, it’s pretty easy to delete if you don’t want it. My (slightly coded address to stay one step ahead of the spammers) is info at nicholasoneill dot co dot uk – if you can’t work it out, no doubt a friend would be able to help!