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Christmas Cantata
 Performance notes
These are the notes from the published score. 

Preface
Christmas Cantata is a 100 minute long contemporary oratorio for soloists, chorus, orchestra and continuo, in a fusion style which ranges from Renaissance opera through Persian classical music to samba and R&B. The libretto is based on the Bible, with paraphrases by the composer. Although intentionally popular in idiom, it is a sacred work which consciously stands in the great tradition of western oratorio.
    It is essentially vocal music: choirs, solos, duets, trios, octets, and recitatives. It needs a good keen chorus who can read the notes and stick to them, and some versatile soloists who can be a little freer in their delivery. Once you've got your singers, the basic accompaniment is the continuo of piano, bass, and drums. Like the solo singers, the continuo can improvise and embellish their parts as long as they stay within the harmonic structure. You can put on a decent performance with just the piano, bass, drums, and a few featured instruments. But, if you really want to go to town, there are parts for orchestra. Like the chorus, the orchestra should stick to the notes!



Performance notes
Here it is, section by section.
   Before all things, the opening aria for soprano solo and chorus, is a paraphrase of the prologue to St John’s gospel. It describes the pre-existence and incarnation of the eternal Son of God. After the stately opening fanfare for flugelhorns, the solo soprano enters. The chorus takes up the next verse before another fanfare leads to soprano and chorus together and a closural fanfare from the entire brass section.
   Angel, for chorus, narrates Gabriel’s appearance and message to Mary from Luke 1:26-38. The style is a Brazilian bossa nova with the clave in inverted form.
   Mary is the Magnificat from St Luke 1:46-55. The style is lounge music. The chorus interject their joyful refrain, “My soul shall magnify the Lord”, between the verses of the soprano solo. The song moves through an electric bass solo and final choruses to a pure cocktail coda.
   Blessed an R&B chorale, is the Magnificat from St Luke 1:68-79. The priest Zechariah prophesies that his newborn son, John the Baptist, will prepare the way for the Messiah. After the ambuscade of drums which closes the preceding recitative, the chorus leap in. The instrumentation is led by the continuo: a sparring duo of piano and Hammond Organ, supported by drum & bass on a cushion of strings, punctuated by trumpet stabs. 
   Lullaby is Mary’s tribute to the newborn Jesus. The style is a Celtic cradle-song.
   Gloria is the angel chorus heard by the shepherds on the Bethlehem hills. It is a triple fugue in southern African township style; trilingual to represent the angelic tongues; fading at the end as the heavenly envoys withdraw into the country of the stars.
   Shepherds, a barbershop octet, relates the shepherds’ journey to Bethlehem. Their journey through ‘the dark fields of corn’ reminds us that Bethlehem is the ‘House of Bread’, from which came not only the grain of Israel (Ruth 2:23), but the bread of life for the world (John 6:33-35). It may be sung a capella.
   Wake is a children’s chorus calling the children of the world to hear the angels’ good news. It brings to an end the first section of the Cantata.

INTERVAL

   Lord, our Lord, a chorale meditation on the eighth psalm, opens the second section of the Cantata. This is the Christmas psalm. It displays a magian interest in the astral bodies; it tells how God quells the foe by the mouth of babes and sucklings, and how the son of man was made a little less than the immortals so as to be crowned ruler of all things. 
   Master, now is a version of the Nunc dimittis, Simeon's song of praise from St Luke 2:29-32, when the infant Jesus was first brought into the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. The chorus recalls the cathedral choirs of renaissance Europe. Respect to Rex Rabanye.
   You, Bethlehem introduces the Magi, the Zoroastrian princely priests from the great astrological seminary of Isfahan in Persia. Having seen the star of the King of the Jews at its rising in the east, they come to Bethlehem to worship him. They enter in procession, singing in trio the words of the prophecy from Micah 5:2-5, which they learned from the Jerusalem priests. Their song, appropriately, is in the classical Persian mode, or dastgah, of Shur and is accompanied by Persian stately instruments, tombak, sistrum and finger-cymbals, in the measure of chahar-mezrab. When the procession arrives at the front of the house, the chorus and strings break into Bollywood pyrotechnics.
   The star recounts the magis’ reminiscence of the birth of the Christ, its effect on them and its meaning for the world. The lyrics are influenced by Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’. The music is an ardent chanson. Classical Persian influence appears once again, the melody being, this time, in the dastgah of Isfahan. 
   Rorate coeli (Rain down, heavens), a chorale, anticipates the worldwide kingdom of the Messiah. The words are the composer’s reworking of a lyric of the same name by the Scots Franciscan poet, William Dunbar (c. 1460-1520), while the melody is Scots traditional. The pizzicati strings depicts the rain of divine blessing falling on the earth in the anticipated golden age.
   A Voice Is Heard in Ramah is a wailing women's lament for soprano and female chorus. It leads abruptly away from the preceding visions of the golden age to the brutal reality of our broken world. The words are from the prophet Jeremiah's threnody for the slain and banished Ten Tribes of Israel. Saint Matthew recalls them to describe King Herod’s massacre of the little boys of Bethlehem, whose fate prefigures the slaying of the innocent Saviour of the world. The song is a remembrance for Holy Innocents’ Day and for all the unjustly slain of the earth. 
   The opening soprano declamation is Monteverdian. The melody is picked up by the chorus with plaintive echoes interjected by the soprano. The soloist leads the chorus into the middle section – She refuses to be comforted – with its characteristic stylized wailing. Finally, the opening theme re-appears as a marche funèbre, the chorus taking each phrase in response to the soprano’s keening. The soprano closes with a striking Neapolitan sixth, returning to the early Italian opera style in which the song began.
   News takes it cue from Martin Luther's saying, “What good is it if Christ was born one hundred times and is not born in you?” The baritone solo, backed by the gospel alto and the chorus, reminds the audience that the Son of God’s great love to the world must be personally received. 
   Arise, the final great chorale of the Cantata, returns to visions of the age to come. It is a setting of Isaiah 60 – describing the glory of Jerusalem under the coming rule of the King Messiah – juxtaposed with Ephesians 5:14. It builds up through two verses and a bridge section to the entry of the trumpets and timpani at the trasposition into F major. The trumpeters stand. Their motif of one long, seven short and one long notes is the teruah given to Moses in the desert, at whose sound the Lord promised to come and save his people. In the third verse the soprano enters over the full orchestra and chorus. Through the extended coda, the soloists successively enter and improvise before the final closural statement of the great opening theme. 
   The Cantata closes with a fugal Amen.