A few follow up thoughts on my recent post:
I shared that post with our internal chorus list. Another chorister, Peter Pulsifer, had some great insights on the “very fast recitation of text, continually repeated on given pitches, voices should not be together” in movement 3 that I admitted had stumped me. His words:
“It’s like the rustling of millions of voices in heaven – which can be beautiful or – if you have something to hide – can inspire paranoia. It’s interesting how MacMillan has set this angry, odious text (“For a few denarii Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss. It would be better had he never been born”) as a lament. I find it very moving.
The same effect is found in Britten’s War Requiem, where the choir rapidly repeats “pleni sunt coeli…” to start the Sanctus – glorious! The emotion is quite different there, of course.
I have to agree with Peter’s interpretation. Great stuff!
Secondly, another chorister simultaneously wrote down some thoughts about the piece and shared them on that same list. You can read Tim Jarrett’s thoughts about preparing to sing the St. John Passion on his blog post here. My favorite part of his analysis is at the end:
But it’s the Stabat Mater in part 7 that really brings home the genius of all the moving parts of the work, with narrator chorus describing the fate of Mary, the inner voices sing the Latin poem in a breathtaking melismatic canon of fourths and fifths… and the outer voices (soprano and bass) sing a gentle lullaby to the deceased Christ, all at the same time–before closing on a quote from Bach made utterly personal: “Your sacred head is wounded.” It’s one of those moments outside of time that don’t come along too often in symphonic repertoire.
Finally, I was pleasantly surprised that the composer himself left a comment on my post. I’m thinking that Beethoven never stopped by to comment on a blog regarding the 9th Symphony. Mr. MacMillan, we all hope to meet you next week and maybe glean any insights from you before realizing your work on stage. As John Oliver closed the rehearsal last week, he commented on how remarkable it is to find some 200 people who share the same musical sensibilities and can come together and dedicate themselves to memorizing and internalizing a choral piece such as this one. It’s been a challenging pleasure to immerse ourself into your work and we hope to do it justice.