Revelation 8; 9: 1-4, 13-17a; 11: 12b, 15-19; 21: 1-6a (E)
Choral level of difficulty: 5 (5 greatest)
This adventurous work was commissioned by the Birmingham based chamber choir, Ex Cathedra and their conductor, Jeffrey Skidmore. The text is an extended one from the Book of Revelation where seven angels were given trumpets to blow and with each trumpet blast a new apocalyptic vision emerged ending in the wonderful image ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…’. It is rich pickings for an imagination as fertile as MacMillan’s who has turned to the Revelation before: the wonderful motet The Song of the Lamb is a particularly powerful example.
The work is scored for 2 trumpets doubling Natural Trumpet in E flat and C and two Shofars (ram’s horn), percussion (1 player with multiple instruments), harp and cello. It is an extended work lasting some 35 minutes and uses SATB soloists from within the choir but who need to use a Sprechstimme approach to some of their solo work at some extreme pitches.
This is an extremely dramatic work which draws the listener into the apocalyptic story line perhaps (rather like the Stabat Mater) made even more powerful through the economical orchestra which allows the text to dominate. There is a great deal of divisi work with all parts dividing into four at times and voices are asked to hum, to shout, to approximate pitch, and to be as flexible as MacMillan’s instructions dictate. The ending is cataclysmic.
A remarkable work which needs a choir of considerable skill to bring it off successfully. There are many of these around the world which will relish the demands and the memorable outcome of a successful performance.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer