MacMillan:Veni, Veni Emmanuel/Tryst
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James MacMillan (b.
Veni, Veni, Emmanuel;Tryst (1989)
Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, a concerto for percussion and orchestra is in onecontinuous movement and lasts about 25 minutes. Dedicated to my parents, it isbased on the Advent plainsong of the same name and was started on the 1stSunday of Advent 1991 land completed on Easter Sunday 1992. These twoliturgical dates are important as will be explained later. The piece can bediscussed in two ways. On one level it is a purely abstract work in which all themusical material is drawn from the fifteenth-century French Advent plainchant.
On another level it is a musical exploration of the theology behind the Adventmessage.
Soloist and orchestra converse throughout as two equal partners and awide range of percussion instruments is used, covering tuned, untuned, skin,metal and wood sounds. Much of the music is fast and, although seamless, can bedivided into a five-sectioned arch. It begins with a bold, fanfare-like'overture' in which the soloist presents all the instrument-types usedthroughout. When the soloist moves to gongs and unpitched metal and wood themusic melts into the main meat of the first section - music of a more brittle,knottier quality, propelled forward by various pulse rates evoking an ever-changingheartbeat.
Advancing to drums and carried through a metrical modulation, the musicis thrown forward into the second section characterized by fast 'chugging'quavers, irregular rhythmic shifts and the 'hocketting' of chords between oneside of the orchestra and the other. Eventually the music winds down to a slowcentral section which pits cadenza-like expressivity on the marimba against afloating tranquillity in the orchestra which hardly ever rises above ppp. Overand over again the orchestra repeats the four chords which accompany the words Gaude,Gaude from the plainsong's refrain. They are layered in differentinstrumental combinations and in different speeds evoking a huge distantcongregation murmuring a calm prayer in many voices.
A huge pedal crescendo on E flat provides a transition to sectionfour which reintroduces material from the 'hocket' section under a virtuosovibraphone solo. Gradually one becomes aware of the original tune floatingslowly behind all the surface activity. The climax of the work presents theplainsong as the human presence of Christ. Advent texts proclaim the promisedday of liberation from fear, anguish and oppression, and this work is anattempt to mirror this in music, finding its initial inspiration in thefollowing from Luke 21: \There will be signs in the sun and moon, and stars; onearth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves;men dying of fear as they await what menace, the world, for the powers ofheaven will be shaken. And they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud withpower and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, holdyour heads high, because your liberation is near at hand."
At the very end of the piece the music takes a liturgical detour fromAdvent to Easter - right into the Gloria of the Easter Vigil in fact - as ifthe proclamation of liberation finds embodiment in the Risen Christ.
Veni, Veni, Emmanuel was commissioned by Christian Salvesen plc for theScottish Chamber Orchestra and first performed by them with Evelyn Glennie andJukka-Pekka Saraste on 10th August 1992 at the Royal Albert Hall.
A few years ago I came across a love poem by William Soutar written inbroad Scots, called The Tryst which I set to a very simple melody. Thismelody has persistently appeared, in various guises, in many works composedsince - a congregational Mass setting, a tiny fragment for violin and piano (Afterthe Tryst) and more recently in my music theatre piece B??squeda. Notonly has it cropped up again in this piece, but it has provided both the titleand the emotional core of the music.
Its melodic characteristics, matching the original words, seem to implymany very strong associations - commitment, sanctity, intimacy, faith (it isused specifically in the Credo section of B??squeda), love, but itis also saturated with a sadness as if all these things are about to expire.
The music is in one continuous movement, but divided into five clearly definedsections, the slow middle section being the point where the melodic potentialof the original tune is again explored. It is here elongated and ornamented onthe strings, behind which one hears pulsating, throbbing colour chords Theopening section of the work is fast, energetic and rhythmic. The second sectionbegins with slow homophonic wind chords which are interrupted by fast, violentinterjections on the strings. These interjections gradually become morepervasive and expansive while the wind music transforms itself into shortermore brutal intrusions (i.e. the two musics influence each other so that oneeventually becomes the other and vice versa).
After the slow third section, the melodic material from the opening isnow presented in a quick, rhythmically brittle, but simple structured verse andrefrain form. The final section combines fast music with solemn chordal ideasfrom the middle section. Tryst is dedicated to Susan Loy, mygrandmother, who died in 1989.