Dawn Chorus


by David Matthews

unaccompanied choir and soloists
Mixed Voices
SATB & Soloists

Commissioned by the Lichfield Festival with support from the Arts Council

First Performance
9.7.2015, Lichfield Festival, Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield, UK: Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore

Score on special sale from the Hire Library

Programme Notes

I have been watching and listening to birds since my early teens, and in the last twenty years I have incorporated birdsong – both British and Australian – into my music. Unlike Messiaen, I don’t attempt exact transcriptions, except with birds such as the cuckoo that sing precise notes. For this piece, I recorded a lot of birdsong during the spring, particularly blackbirds and song thrushes from my house in North London, and derived singable phrases from it. Nine soloists spread around the cathedral – four sopranos, two altos, two tenors and a baritone – imitate the birds against a quiet chordal background from the rest of the choir. The first soprano is a song thrush; the second a blackcap; the third a great tit; the fourth, and the two altos, three blackbirds; the first tenor a woodpigeon and the second a collared dove; the baritone (singing falsetto) a cuckoo. I decided I would only include a cuckoo, now sadly an increasingly rare bird, if I heard one, and fortunately I did, near Deal in Kent. The song thrush begins the piece with a lone solo (as a real one did on a number of May mornings when I was woken up at 4am). Then we hear the three blackbirds, entering separately; then the blackcap and woodpigeon, followed by the collared dove with the song thrush. Lastly all the birds, including the cuckoo and great tit, sing together for about a minute before they are cut off, to leave a final quiet chord from the chorus.

© DM

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