Panufnik, Andrzej : Thames Pageant (1969)  32'

Cantata for young players and singers

Music Text

Camilla Jessel-Panufnik (E)

descant recorders(picc).treble recorders(fl)-2tpt(ob or cl).2trbn(bn or bcl)-perc:chime bars/glsp(s)/gong(s)/xyl/cyms/tam-t/tgl(s)/BD/SD(s)/scraper/wind machine-senior strings (at least, junior strings (vln.vlc)-2 choirs of treble voices
Abbreviations (PDF)

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

Composer's Notes

Thames Pageant, a full-scale Cantata, is an expression of my love for the River Thames which flows past my garden. This work is dedicated to my own two children who grew up by the side of the river, and it was composed in response to a request for a work for all the schoolchildren of the Borough of Richmond upon Thames. This Cantata is scored for senior and junior school orchestras and two treble voice choirs stereophonically placed. Both music and lyrics are intended to be of educational value as well as entertainment for the young performers and listeners, and are also meant to evoke affection and interest in the past and present spirit of the River Thames, so that I have not hesitated to use pictorial, descriptive or humorous elements in the music.

This work may be performed as a whole cantata or as separate movements:
Julius Caesar: The Thames was the scene of the decisive victory in Caesar's conquest of
Britain. The music has the character of a military march, the drum beat perhaps suggesting
galloping horses. There are both aggressive and sardonic elements in this first movement,
and all players and singers are involved.

Hymn to St. Frideswide: A prayer to the Patron Saint and Founder of Oxford, who, in her
lifetime, escaped from a dire fate down the River Thames . . . Musically this is the most
ascetic movement, deliberately archaic in character. The choirs sing in unison, supported
by pitched percussion only.

Ghosts of London Bridge: Grotesque in character, depicting some of the horrors which the
bridge has witnessed in English history.  Ghostly sounds emanate from the orchestra
(minus recorders and brass instruments) and from the choirs.

Magna Carta: The moment of the birth of democracy in Britain. Starting solemnly with
brass instruments, then the percussion begins.  This is the first of three separate but
simultaneous canons: (a) percussion in canon, (b) speaking voices in canon, in the same
rhythmical pattern, but at twice the speed, and (c) singing voices, also in canon at the
same pace as the percussion. This movement expresses both the glory of the ideal of
democracy and the threat of the crowd angrily demanding justice. It is a rather long,
thoughtful movement, ending with the brass instruments mirroring the beginning.  No
stringed instruments take part.

Pope's Weeping Willows: An elegy to the memory of Alexander Pope who introduced the
willow tree to the River Thames. In three sections: the first Allegretto, musically
characterises the wit of the poet; the second, a slower section with one solo voice, pays tribute to him; and the third section, Andante, is 'weeping willow music', the choirs lamenting
wordlessly. No brass instruments take part.

Laughing Fishes: All the fishes of the Thames are teasing the fishermen. A musical joke, with
a background of watery sounds from the choirs, supported by recorders and xylophones

The Boat Race: This final movement is a vivid version of the Oxford and Cambridge Race.
After a choral introduction setting the scene, the commentator starts his description,
getting more and more worked up, and being interrupted more and more often by the
increasingly excited crowd - one choir supporting Cambridge and the other Oxford, until
at the finish, they are really shouting against each other. Up to the last moment, nobody
knows who will win. The closing section praises the great event and the River Thames

Andrzej Panufnik

Note: this work has also been very successfully performed with a mixed choir of SATB and children (Crouch End Chorus, Royal Festival Hall, 2001)

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