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Deus Venerunt Gentes for Choir (SSATBarB) by Ben Rowarth.

Co-commissioned by The I Fagiolini Charitable Trust and Kieran Cooper for I Fagiolini's programme, 'ReWilding The Waste Land, 2021’.

This work was composed in 2021 and first performed on 22 April 2021 in London by I Fagiolini conducted by Robert Hollingworth.

Programme Notes

Posuertunt Morticinia [Part 1]

This movement is one of two that was commissioned to set verses of Psalm 78 in order to replace two of the four sections of William Byrd’s setting of the same text, Deus Venerunt Gentes, in a programme first performed by I Fagiolini in 2021. The programme featured T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland, read by a narrator in short sections, between which various musical pieces were interspersed. As such, this piece features sections of spoken text that begin by echoing the narrator with sections of The Wasteland and merge smoothly into translations of Psalm 78, Deus Venerunt Gentes.

The piece vividly reflects the text, depicting a scene in which one is walking through corpses as birds tear away parts of the corpses into the air and drop them back down to the earth where ‘beasts of the land’ pull them apart. Musically, the birds are depicted by the Soprano parts, the initial scene by the Mezzo, Tenor, Baritone and Bass parts. As the Soprano move up and down in pitch, the bottom four parts are gradually pulled up in pitch (into the air) and the material of all six parts is combined and gradually moves to slow downward scales, depicting the corpses falling back down to earth. Finally, in a representation of the corpses being pulled apart by animals, chords in the last section appear to be pulled apart with slow glissando movements.

Effuderunt Sanguinem [Part 2]

This second movement begins with a lamenting soprano solo line and goes on on, as the other parts join, to depict blood flowing around Jerusalem, searching for someone to bury the bodies of the dead. As no-one is found, the piece becomes increasingly agitated until harmonically collapsing, through the use of whole tone scales, back into the lament that began the piece.

Musical material used involves a simple chord progression and a single melodic line (first heard in the soprano lament p.1). Within the central section (pp. 2-9), depicting flowing blood, the piece moves between the melody and the chord progression in smaller sub-sections. In the first part of each subsection the chord progression emerges through gradual extension from a static chord (b13-14) to a large part of the progression (bb. 30-33) to the entire progression in the final section. In the second half of each subsection, the melody is sung in canons (of varying temporal relationships) that get closer and closer together each time they are heard until the pattern of subsections is broken and the melody is sung again by only one line (p. 7) in retrograde and, in the final section, in its original form. The change to retrograde follows a change of key between each subsection, all of which are designed to give the impression of frustrated and fruitless searching. In the final section (p. 9 onwards), the melody and chord progression are finally combined.

Duration: 6 minutes