John Joubert: Rochester Triptych (1991-92)
SATB and organ
The texts of the settings in Rochester Triptych - specially selected for me by Nicholas Fisher to reflect three contrasting but complementary views of life - are all by the seventeenth century poet John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. The first is a translation from the Latin of a passage by Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and playwright. Taken from the tragedy Troades, it is an uncompromising denial of the possibility of life after death. Set for men's voices and cast in the key of C minor, the aim of my setting is to capture some of the grimness, but also some of the dignity of the Stoic position. The text of the second panel of the Triptych is taken from a longer poem, and celebrates the power of Harmony - characterised here as 'mutual Love' - as the animating spirit of Creation. The setting is for female voices, and its tonality A major is that traditionally associated with the idea of Spring. After a slow introduction the music launches into a lyrical middle section in which the organ maintains an almost unbroken flow of quavers to illustrate the central image of the text - that of a rippling stream. At the words "Who would resist an Empire so Divine…" the music of the introduction is resumed to form an extended epilogue. The third panel is also taken from a longer poem 'A Satyr against Reason and Mankind'. The extract actually represents the position against which the thrust of the satire is directed, but it is such a fine statement of the apparent centrality of Man's place in the Universe that I feel its appearance here as the culmination of the Triptych is justified. It is set for the full chorus in a broadly homophonic style up to "And give the World true grounds of hope and fear", after which the music and words of the opening two lines are repeated to form a climactic peroration to the triptych as a whole.
Blest Glorious Man! was the first panel of the triptych to be composed, and was first performed in 1991 by the Birmingham Bach Choir under Richard Butt in St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham. The two other panels were added later, and the first performance of the complete triptych was given on 9th April, 1994, by the Choir under Paul Spicer in the Salvator Church, Prague. A version of Rochester Triptych for chorus and orchestra will be given this summer at the Three Choirs Festival at Hereford.
After Death nothing is, and nothing Death,
The utmost Limit of a gaspe of Breath:
Let the Ambitious Zealot lay aside
His hopes of Heav'n, (whose faith is but his Pride)
Let Slavish Soules lay by their feare;
Nor be concern'd which way, nor where,
After this Life they shall be hurl'd;
Dead, we become the Lumber of the World,
And to that Masse of matter shall be swept,
Where things destroy'd, with things unborne, are kept.
Devouring tyme swallows us whole.
Impartiall Death, Confounds Body and Soule.
from Seneca's Troas Act 2d Chor:
By Harmony the Universe does move;
And what is harmony, but mutual Love?
See gentle Brooks, how quietly they glide,
Kissing the rugged Banks on either side,
Whils't in their Christal Stream at once they show,
And with them feed the Flowers which they bestow;
Though prest upon by their too rude embrace,
In gentle murmurs they keep on their pace
To their Love'd Sea; For even Streams have desires,
Cool as they are, they feel Love's pow'rful fires:
And with such passion, that if any force
Stop or molest 'um in their Am'rous Course,
They swell with rage, break down, and ravage ore
The Banks they kiss'd, the flowers they fed before.
Who would resist an Empire so Divine,
Which Universal Nature does enjoyn?
from The Advice
Best Glorious Man!
Best Glorious Man! to whom alone kind Heav'n
An everlasting Soul has freely given,
Whom his great Maker took such care to make,
That from himself he did the Image take,
And this fair frame in shining Reason drest,
To dignifies his Nature above Beast.
Reason, by whose aspiring influence
We take a flight beyond material Sense;
Dive into Mysteries, then soaring pierce
The flaming limits of the Universe,
Search heav'n and Hell, find out what's Acted there,
And give the World true grounds of hope and fear
from A Satyr against Reason and Mankind
© 1997 John Joubert
First we had “Impartiall Death”…a grim opening, the stoic mood reflected in the setting for men’s voices and brass, making a burnished dark-edged sound, the timpani hammering out a climactic fusillade. This is powerfully imagined music, written in gripping wide-spanning paragraphs. There followed “Universal Nature”… The magical, sustained, introductory music soon leads to the soaring lyrical middle section, the orchestral colouration essential to realise Joubert’s glowing vision… The finale changes the tone… This is quite splendid music… The orchestration of the first two panels was only completed earlier this year, and it has to be said that the orchestration lifts the now substantial score onto a new plane: it is quite simply a major work that deserves to be widely heard.
Lewis Foreman, BMS News, 01/08/1997