"Everyone Sang", by Siegfried Sassoon (E)
Choral level of difficulty: 3 (5 greatest)
MacMillan has written a huge portfolio of choral music and undoubtedly much more will come from his pen in the years to come. But however much we may see fingerprints, familiar ornamental devices, use of chant-like melodies, clusters, humming and so on, his imagination is so rich that no piece sounds like any other and it is his response to text which ensures this freshness and his determination to plough his own fertile furrow.
Everyone sang sets Siegfried Sassoon’s famous poem ‘Everyone suddenly burst out singing and I was filled with such delight as prisoned birds must find in freedom…’. It was written in response to the horrors he witnessed during World War I but, in so many ways, the lyrics are timeless and can reflect whatever we choose to read into them. The piece was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists for their Kansas City Convention in 2018 and was part of the opening celebration concert commemorating the centenary of the end of the Great War.
The piece is a virtuoso choral offering with an equally demanding organ part (suitable, of course, for an organists’ convention). It is madrigalian in character and positively dances. Dividing at the end into four of each voice part, it needs a choir capable of realizing its demands which are as much in the effective performance of dynamics (some high notes demanding a poised diminuendo, for instance) as the seriously challenging hum – open – hum clusters with which the work ends (‘… and the song was wordless’ the almost final words – but also ‘the singing will never be done’ which has these clusters disappear into silence. Difficult to achieve successfully but when managed, supremely effective. The two contrapuntal sections ‘My heart was shaken with tears’ with the rising figure taken up almost fugally make a deeply moving and extended central section leading to a cataclysmic discord on the word ‘horror’ which then literally ‘drifted away’ as the voices descend into silence.
This is a remarkable work which, while of course eminently suitable for any kind of remembrance, is also a celebration of the power of life and of singing which represents the highest form of expression of which mankind is capable.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer