Since enjoying 2007 as the Ursula Bethell writer-in-residence at the English Department of the University of Canterbury, I had wanted to thank the University in kind by setting one of Ursula Bethell’s poems. On receiving an invitation from the Christchurch City Choir to compose a work to celebrate the choir’s 20th anniversary I immediately thought of Bethell’s ‘At the Lighting of the Lamps’, which carries the subtitle in brackets ‘(For Music)’. In the first three cantos of this she describes, in an extended musical metaphor, the setting of the sun over the Southern Alps, the beginnings of a symphony of light as lamps are lit across the Canterbury Plains, and the heavenly effects of ‘the music of the spheres’ as starlight illuminates the night sky.
Bethell, one of the pioneers of modern New Zealand poetry, was a long-time resident of Cashmere until her death in 1945 and recorded in verse many such sights, and associated reflections, from her elevated vantage point on the hills.
With the tragedy of the 2011 earthquakes and the postponement of many cultural activities, the Christchurch City Choir’s anniversary for celebration passed from the 20th to the 21st. As a result of the earthquakes, Ursula Bethell’s words have assumed new meaning – the lighting of the lamps can now symbolise hope, signs of a city and its surrounds in renewal: ‘from the deepening dark, sudden a new song springs…’.
I have dedicated this work to my muse, Alison, on the occasion of our thirtieth wedding anniversary.
The text of this work comes from the 40-part motet of the same name by Alessandro Striggio (c1540-1592). His work was the likely inspiration for the better-known 40-part motet of Thomas Tallis “Spem in alium”. It is believed that Striggio wrote the text himself. Striggio wrote both sacred and secular music, and all his surviving music is vocal (although often with instrumental doublings clearly indicated).
“Ecce beatam lucem” is a hymn of praise to the sun and more generally to all of creation, and by analogy to the power of God shown through his creation.
This piece was written for Choralation (Westlake Girls’ and Westlake Boys’ High Schools) and conductor Rowan Johnston who had requested a ‘fireworks’ piece – something short, bold and dramatic.
Jisei are the special poems written, by Japanese tradition, as a ‘farewell to life’ by poets, a sort of artistic ‘last will’ that reflects on the life lived, the present transition and the afterlife to come.
The lyrics consist of three simple syllables that could come from any number of languages. Samuel composed it after being inspired by a performance of Georgian traditional polyphonic vocal music at the Opéra Bastille in Paris.
This mass was written to commemorate the installation of the new organ at St Matthews in the City in 2011. It uses the traditional texts of the Latin mass and is for organ and choir. Originally it was performed within the Sunday liturgy.
These two a cappella folksong settings were written for the 2011 – 2012 NZSSC to sing during their NZ concerts and on their trip to the Ihlombe South Africa Music Festival in July 2012 . The settings were based on existing folk melodies and texts and were designed to challenge the choir. ‘Lullaby’ is a gentle song featuring both Maori and English text, in which a mother encourages her child to go to sleep. The rousing ‘Altered Days’ relates a tale of changed fortunes, for the better, of an emigrant from Scotland to New Zealand.
Christmas Carol – a bit ‘Rutteresque’ in style but with some unexpected twists and jazzy harmonies at times.
This piece was first performed in December 2010 in its original ‘a cappella’ version by The Graduate Choir conducted by Terence Maskell. The revised version with keyboard accompaniment won first prize in the Amadeus Choir of Toronto’s Seasonal Song Writing competition for 2011 (Adult Amateur SATB accompanied category).