Tippett began his oratorio A Child of our Time as the Second World War broke out and its composition gave the composer a creative outlet for his pacifism (he was later imprisoned as a conscientious objector). Central to the oratorio are the Five Negro Spirituals which function in a similar manner to the chorales in Bach’s Passions. In 1958 Tippett extracted the spirituals from the oratorio and re-scored them for voices alone. The genius of these arrangements lies in Tippett’s ability to take orchestral accompaniments and to make them work as vocal lines. The effect is a grand one in which Tippett retains the directness of expression of the spirituals while lovingly adorning each one with musical gestures which were very much of his own time.
from notes by Jeremy Summerly © 2006