About this Recording
8.573039 - RIZZA, M.: Choral Works (Mysterium amoris) (Gaudete Ensemble, Dougan)

Margaret Rizza (b. 1929)
Mysterium amoris


Although music has been part of the fabric of my life since I can remember it was only in my old age that I began to actually write music. In 1996 I was invited to write some music as an introduction to prayer for an international conference. I naturally declined, never having written any music before. After much persuasion, I agreed to sketch out something using a small group of singers and instrumentalists. As I began writing, my mind was filled with ambitious ideas but what I found myself writing was something very different. This was music of extreme simplicity and came more from a spontaneous and intuitive writing than from anything else.

By the time the conference came round I had written six chants. This simple prayerful music moved people and so became the start of composing. As I continued to write, my musical wings began to take flight, and it was in 2007 that I began to explore a more contemporary sound-world, that of Classical Contemporary.

Now that I travel more deeply into the Third Age I find that the creative source, which for me is birthed in and through the contemplative Christian tradition, is undiminished. In the writing it is a huge struggle to try to express something of the richness of the fiery spirit deep within but it is precisely through this struggle that seeds are sown and which, with patience and perseverance, can then be transformed into music.

This collection of choral pieces is composed of 7 unaccompanied pieces and 8 pieces with keyboard and instrumental accompaniment. Although the texts span 800 years, they nearly all come from the contemplative mystical tradition which has influenced and inspired me in the writing of this music.

The following are some brief reflections on some of the pieces:

O magnum mysterium, set to a text from Christmas Matins, invites us to consider the great mystery of the incarnation of Christ. The music creates an atmosphere of awesome wonder as it touches on the wondrous sacrament which animals and humans are there to behold. The music breaks into ecstatic cries of praise for Mary which then subside into prayerful meditation.

In setting Thomas Mertonʼs words for Mary slept, I was captured by the extraordinary depth of Mertonʼs conception and insight into the birth of Christ. Merton takes me away from the comfortable Christmas images that I have grown up with and touches a mystical depth which sweeps my mind into a new understanding of God breaking through into our world of time and space.

The music begins with clusters of sound representing a cosmic silence and moves towards Mary sleeping in the infinite tranquillity of God. It then broadens out with sopranos singing to embrace Mary with her child curled up within her. The music develops into climactic phrases of Godʼs wisdom which floods her veins, which in turn is night, is starlight, is silence. The piece ends where they become one in tremendous silence.

Fire of Love has words taken from The Living Flame of Love by the 16th century mystic St John of the Cross. In these inspired verses, John expresses the highest longings of the human spirit that spring from the fire of Godʼs love.

The music opens with rhapsodic phrases on the cello which in turn introduce the choir. The choral phrases build up into crescendos of fiery love.

A solo soprano sings of the soul who feels at last wholly enkindled in Divine union. This is followed by a response from the violin confirming the fragile and delicate awakenings of the soul. A solo tenor sings of the soulʼs rapture as it savours the taste of eternal life. This again is followed by a duet between viola and cello. The music continues alternating between solo soprano and tenor, chorus and instrumental variations, culminating in the soulʼs realization of this final consummation. In the short coda, the soul is transported into the consuming fire of love.

O sapientia is the first of the seven ʻGreat O Antiphonsʼ which anticipates the coming of Christmas. The music begins with an entreaty for wisdom, a cry for enlightenment which comes forth from “the mouth of the Most High”. This is followed by the very beautiful Wisdom text. The music here is transformed into two expressively lyrical passages which give praise to wisdom. The music flows through expressions of gratitude and love claiming that those who acquire wisdom win Godʼs friendship. The anthem ends with a coda, again pleading for wisdom.

The profound words for Mysterium amoris come from the Benedictine monk John Main, a twentieth-century mystic and contemplative writer. The music opens with a downward cascade of sounds on the clarinet. This is taken up by the oboe intoning angular phrases depicting the restless mind which only comes to rest when it sinks into the sound of the strings as they rise and fall in waves of confirming harmony. The entrance of the choir sings of the mystery of love. The oboe then leads the music into an unaccompanied choral section where the choir sing of the roots of love holding the ground of our being together. From this the oboe is drawn again into expressions of restlessness but again finds repose. A second unaccompanied choral section leads to a recapitulation ending with a contemplative affirmation of the mystery of love.

Ave generosa has words written by that lovely mystic of the 12th century Hildegard of Bingen. One is drawn into the music following the beauty of Hildegardʼs rich and extravagant words revealing the wonder of the incarnation. Suffice it to say, the whole composition alternates between plain chant phrases sung by a soprano and alto, and fragments of this plain chant which are expanded chorally into rich harmonic cadences.

In the nine other compositions one also find strands of mystical glimpses interwoven with threads of joy, passion, prayer, sorrow, gratitude and peace, creating a tapestry of Mysterium amoris.

Margaret Rizza

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