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The apparently rhapsodic freedom of the Magnificat is regulated by a technique whereby melodic contours either emerge as musical ‘anagrams’ of one another or give common prominence to certain intervals. Finzi’s exact contemporary and close friend, Edmund Rubbra, titled the first movement of his unconventional piano concerto a ‘corymbus’, in its botanical connotation of an ‘inflorescence of stalked flowers springing from different levels but making a flat head’. In musical terms, this meant that a seminal idea would be added to upon its reappearance, thus heading in a new direction after the initial element of repetition. Something similar often informs Finzi’s methods, which may well have been influenced by conversation with Rubbra (and vice versa).
The Magnificat’s seminal materials are set out in an expansive organ introduction, before a series of three declamatory choral entries, each confined to the canticle’s opening six words and the second entry echoing the organ’s opening motif. One prominent unifying element is a tendency to balance a wide rising interval with several narrower descending ones. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ recurs more than once in the work as a whole, constituting an emotional or dramatic subtext and eventually acknowledging the Blessed Virgin as its human source in a soprano solo version. Other aspects of long-range thinking include the balancing of the word ‘blessed’ (reiterated eight times) and, considerably later, ‘for ever’ (repeated ten times and suggesting a verbal elision into ‘blessed for ever’). Free counterpoint is energetically deployed in response to ‘And his mercy is on them that fear him’, while the putting down of the mighty from their seat is graphically evoked in a sequential series of descending sevenths. ‘Humble and meek’ brings the music eventually to a complete standstill and a subdued fresh start. The final Amen pacifies the questing music of the opening, its beatific retrospection perhaps drawing for inspiration upon its lengthier counterpart in Lo, the full, final sacrifice. Here, as elsewhere, conceptually the florid organ writing differs little from Finzi’s characteristic string ensemble writing.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2019
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