Do people still break up for the summer these days or do we simply log off? Either way, the Parliament Choir did one or the other (or possibly both) last night at our final rehearsal before the recess, running through all the chorus parts for The Dream Of Gerontius before going our separate ways for a while.
In a large work such as this, being able to run everything in a single span marks a kind of watershed moment, not just because it means that all the notes have been covered, but also because it is the first time that the singers can put all that they have to sing into context. For the first time the architecture of the work becomes apparent, and the proportions come into view.
Something very similar happened when we sang The Apostles a few years ago, a work which requires the singers to weave in and out of the texture in a decidedly fragmentary fashion, but one which makes perfect sense in the context of the whole piece. That top-down view, even if it does not change anything about the notes themselves, alters the state of mind about a piece, and that is critically important.
In large-scale works, in which category I include the Dunstan cantata, there are moments in the compositional procedure when I am sure that even the composer has very little idea about how things will turn out. At least in these cases there is the text to hang on to, but the way that themes work, the give and take, the proportions of the whole thing, these all change on the fly.
The trick is to make it all feel inevitable in the end, to hide the joins and the doubts and to make everything feel logical and smooth. At some point it all begins to make sense, and that is when momentum really begins to kick in.