Media morte in vita sumus
(‘In the midst of death we are in life’) is scored for mixed chorus, brass and timpani and was composed for Aylesbury Choral Society who gave the first performance. The score bears the inscription ‘To Charles Pope – a necessary man’. Simpson set his own text in English but, wishing the message to be as universal as possible, asked David Nightingale to translate the verses into Latin. As the companion piece at the first performance was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the work is scored for identical brass forces: four horns, two trumpets and three trombones. In the composer’s own words, the text ‘outlines a simple and practical morality without which humanity must be at lethal risk. It has nothing to do with religion, and explains itself’.
The motet takes the form of a prelude and fugue. Plenty of evocative Simpsonian sonorities emerge in the prelude: stopped horns in fifths gently oscillating, and trenchant unison declamations alternating with haunting chorale motifs on trombones. The choral writing unfolds contrapuntally. A Beethovenian drive infuses the fugue, opening with the words ‘Sic vivificabit saecula’, first announced by tenors. Here the brass scoring is more homophonic, and the type of energy instantly familiar to all who cherish the momentum in Simpson’s symphonic scherzos. The coda assumes the form of a crescendo as the initial stopped-horn figure reappears against an obsessive timpani motif.
from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1998