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It was at the Temple Church in January 1215 that King John was persuaded of the need for a charter which would limit his powers and protect the rights of his subjects. Three of those to witness the sealing of this charter on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede—William Marshal (Earl of Pembroke and the King’s chief advisor), his son William and Brother Aymeric (Master of the Order of Knights Templar in England)—are all buried in the Temple Church.
Muhly’s Our present charter is in four sections. The first of these—simply entitled First and making much use of this word—is a setting of the opening words of the charter. The second section is a setting of the hymn Thy kingdom come, O God! which has words by Lewis Hensley (1824-1905) while the third takes its text from The Beatitudes. In the final section—Nullus liber homo capiatur (No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned)—the words are again taken from the Magna Carta. This is the only movement in which the organ is silent, the choir singing a cappella the two clauses from the charter now numbered 39 and 40. These promise that no freeman will be imprisoned except by the law of the land and that no one will be refused ‘right or justice’, the words of clause 40 being sung in both English and Latin. Just as the choir is about to sing the text in Latin, small sections of which are enclosed in rectangular boxes, the composer gives the following instruction: ‘singer by singer, repeat boxed phrase in individual tempo; take care not to coordinate with other singers; each bar should last 5-8 seconds’. The resulting effect is rather like that of entering a crowded room in which everyone is talking.
from notes by Peter Avis © 2014