Sentences from the Creed and Magnificat, and from a mother of the Plaza de Mayo; Isaiah 61:1-2; Ecclesiasticus 4; Litany of the Saints (L-E)
This work was written to celebrate the birth of my daughter, Catherine, on 22 September 1990. As a set of lullabies they are entirely impractical, as will become quite clear! The point of the work was not to wallow in a cosy domesticity but to use the subjective experience of parenthood as a focus for more universal and share human truths. Consequently, the work has a pervasive spiritual dimension and even some string political implications. The choice of texts form a legacy from Christian and Jewish tradition, all ancient (apart from one), some chosen because of their statement of faith and commitment, but others because of their strong revolutionary message – a message of social justice and equality, intrinsic to the ‘politics of the gospel’.
"He sent me to bring good news to the poor…
to proclaim liberty to captives…" (Isaiah 61)
"Do not turn your face away from the poor…
nor avert your eyes from the needy…
Deliver him who is wronged from the hand
of the wrong-doer" (Ecclesiasticus 4)
"He casts the mighty from their thrones,
and raises the lowly,
He fills the starving with good things,
sends the rich away empty." (Magnificat)
The politics of these texts are quite clear and epitomise the best of our religious traditions: they are manifestos of spiritual and social liberation. Therefore, they are the finest lullabies for our children – effective endearments, seeds of hope and freedom to blossom in the future.
As well as reading like the subversive whisperings of political opposition one has constantly to remind oneself that these texts are at the root of our civilisation, and so to emphasise the traditional nature of the message, I have incorporated the Litany of Saints from Catholic liturgy (used at Easter and at baptisms) where the names of certain appropriate saints are invoked. Excerpts from the Latin Credo are also used, but two non-liturgical texts are placed at the beginning and end of the work. I quote from a poem by one of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, whose poems I used extensively in an earlier work, Bùsqueda, and express a sense of perpetual hope and mercy even in the light of their children being taken away and destroyed by the military regime. This was the starting point of the work and was chosen to express the everlasting, healing love that humankind is capable of in the face of tragedy and oppression.
When these words return in the final section, the altos and tenors are playing a child-like, nonsensical word association game –
Una (One – expressing the Oneness of God)
in unum (from the Credo – I believe in one God)
numina (Greek – the powers of Heaven)
amo (I love) –
- and this final word pulsates gently, like an eternal heartbeat, as the work fades to a close.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
Choral level of difficulty: 5 (5 greatest)
As always, MacMillan looks freshly at his forms, here the idea of a ‘lullaby’. This work has nothing to do with traditional lullabies, but is a ‘manifesto of spiritual and social liberation’. The texts MacMillan has chosen for the work are biblically focussed and reflect his belief in social justice and equality which he then describes as ‘the finest lullabies for our children – effective endearments, seeds of hope and freedom to blossom in the future’.
The work is quite hard-hitting and besides the setting of the main texts includes, in the final section, the singers playing a child-like, nonsensical word association game which builds to a huge climax and sudden stop. This has resonances with his major choral/orchestral work Quickening which includes a nonsense text. But where that was loosely based on old Aramaic, this is based on words plucked from the air having associations with faith, the liturgy and love. The whole effect is powerful and persuasive.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer