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Chapple was a chorister at Highgate School and has never lost touch with liturgical choral music. A renewed interest in the Church and church music followed the death of his parents in the 1980s which he has described as ‘a rekindled awareness of mortality’. This led to two works, the Lamentations of Jeremiah (1984) in memory of his father, and In Memoriam (1989) in memory of his mother. Beneath Chapple’s experiments with avant-garde forms lies a conservatism which has had further expression in recent sacred choral works. The most recent of these pieces are the Evening Canticles, the St Paul’s Service written for St Paul’s Tercentenary celebrations in 1997.
The composer has kindly supplied the following note:
Ecce lignum Crucis was first performed on Good Friday (during the Three Hours Devotion), 9 April 1993 in St Paul’s Cathedral by the choir conducted by John Scott and has been performed there on subsequent Good Fridays. John Scott had earlier (in 1991) commissioned my Missa Brevis for male voices and Ecce lignum was written with both the choir of St Paul’s and the acoustic of the building in mind. It was intended to be part of a larger Holy Week work which never came to fruition. The other remnants of that project are Miserere Mei and Ubi Caritas (both associated with Maundy Thursday) which became numbers 1 and 2 of Three Motets (1992). Ecce lignum uses the simple refrain-chorus repetition technique which I employed in Ubi Caritas. The threefold repetition gives the effect of a step-by-step closer approach to the Cross. This is achieved by progressively adding doublings in thirds, sixths and octaves, and also by lengthening the phrases and pauses of the final choral adoration.
The first piece of mine to be inspired by my rediscovery of Renaissance church music was Lamentations of Jeremiah (1984): Ecce lignum and Three Motets are more influenced by the intensity and colour of Victoria and Byrd (than Palestrina).
from notes by William McVicker © 1997
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