About this Recording
8.572653 - RUTTER, J.: Gloria / Magnificat / Te Deum (Cragg, St Albans Cathedral Choirs, Winpenny, Ensemble DeChorum, Lucas)

John Rutter (b. 1945)
Gloria • Magnificat • Te Deum


The three works heard on this recording span a period of just over fifteen years, from 1974 to 1990. All three are festive and celebratory in character, composed for joyful occasions, and all three use the resources of voices and instruments together. The Gloria (1974) is the earliest, and represented a milestone in my career because it was the first major commission I had received from overseas. I was approached out of the blue by a concert choir in the American midwest called the Voices of Mel Olson, who wanted me to compose an accessible but challenging choral work of about twenty minutes’ duration which I was to come over and guest-conduct. Their conductor visited me in Cambridge to discuss the commission, and the guidelines were laid down: a familiar text, preferably sacred; instrumental accompaniment, but (for budgetary reasons) less than an orchestra; no professional soloists; and a positive, ‘upfront’ quality so that a non-specialist audience could enjoy the music at first hearing. All this steered my thoughts towards the text of the Gloria, which forms a complete section of the familiar Ordinary of the Mass, beginning with the words of the angels to the shepherds on Christmas Night, not often set to music on its own. Asking myself what instruments the angels would have played as heralds of the glad tidings, the answer was obviously trumpets, and that chimed in with what I knew to be a fine tradition of brass playing in the midwest, where marching bands are an established part of school and college life. I decided to supplement a brass ensemble accompaniment with timpani, percussion and organ, and I set to work. The music was written quickly in the spring of 1974, and in looking back at it now I find a mixture of influences: Walton (who knew a thing or two about brass bands, and about festive and ceremonial writing), Stravinsky, Poulenc, and, running like a thread through the whole work, Gregorian chant. Eclecticism was less acceptable at that time in European musical circles than it is now, so perhaps it was fortunate that the work had its première well away from our own music critics and in the friendlier climate of America, where a firestorm of performances followed in the late 1970s and 1980s, continuing as a steady flow to this day. Gradually (as with much of my other work) the Gloria began to filter back to the land where it was written and across the world, something I could not have predicted. Much of the credit must go to Mel Olson (who died, too young, a while ago but whose support and friendship I still miss) because, in telling me what he was looking for in a new choral work, he was telling me what thousands of other choral directors were looking for too.

The Magnificat was the result of an invitation from a New York-based concert organization called MidAmerica Productions which specializes in giving large-scale choral/orchestral concerts in Carnegie Hall. I had been guest-conducting a number of their concerts for some two years when I was asked to write a forty-minute work for one such concert, in May 1990. The chorus, numbering over 200 voices, was made up of hand-picked choirs from all over the United States, every one of them happy and excited at the prospect of joining forces in the magnificent setting of Carnegie Hall, and I also had the resources of orchestra and soloist(s) available. Within these parameters, I was given a completely free hand, and I immediately felt I wanted to write something joyous because that would reflect the mood of the performers. Having written the reflective and subdued Requiem four years earlier, I wanted my next large-scale choral work to be as different as possible, and the text of the Magnificat seemed an obvious choice. Composers seem to have fought shy of writing extended settings of it (though there are many short Anglican liturgical settings), probably because of the daunting shadow cast by J.S. Bach, and I had avoided it myself because I could not think how I would set it to music except that I knew Gregorian chant would feature in some way. The answer came from looking at the context of the words: the Virgin Mary has learned that she is to give birth to Jesus, and she is pouring out her joy to her cousin Elizabeth, in words which recall the Song of Hannah from the Old Testament, combining faith, trust, and wonder. The Magnificat is known as the Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it is mainly in the sunny southern countries—Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico—that Mary is most celebrated and enjoyed. This led me to conceive the music as a bright Latin-flavoured fiesta. On feast days of the Virgin Mary in Latin countries, the population sings, dances, dresses in its most colourful clothes, processes in the open air, and celebrates. I wrote my setting in that spirit, using just a single soprano soloist representing Mary; her music draws mainly on the tradition of the musical theatre. It has always seemed to me that if inspiration can be drawn from another area of music such as the theatre, there is no reason not to bring it into the concert hall. Gregorian chant is indeed used at a number of points, either plainly or disguised, and I also followed Bach’s precedent, from his original 1723 Magnificat version, of adding other texts to the ‘official’ Latin one. There are two of these, a lovely fifteenth-century English poem on the theme of Mary, one of many written in England at that time, and then in the last movement a Latin prayer to Mary which gives the soloist a final say before the music comes to a jubilant conclusion.

The version of the work heard on this recording is one with chamber orchestra and organ accompaniment, which I made shortly after the first performance, with the needs of smaller choirs in mind.

The Te Deum sprang from rather more Anglican soil. In 1988 the Guild of Church Musicians (a British-based church music organization doing much good work) celebrated its centenary, marked by a service of thanksgiving in Canterbury Cathedral, and I was invited to compose a succinct Te Deum for performance on this occasion. The text has been associated with rejoicing and ceremony for centuries—Henry V in Shakespeare’s play orders it to be sung to celebrate the victory at Agincourt—but it is not easy to set effectively to music because it is not the work of a single author but a compilation of three separate texts, and (to be frank) it rather tails off at the end. The solution I found was to make the final section hymn-like, binding the rest of it together with the varied use of one or two melodic outlines. As with the Gloria, the accompaniment is for brass, timpani, percussion and organ.

John Rutter

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