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Trinity Service

composer
2019; from SATB to SSATBarBB
author of text

 
Music constituting a complete Evensong for Trinity College—the Trinity Service—came about when Stephen Layton expressed a desire to record pieces by Mäntyjärvi not already available. This led to a new Magnificat and Nunc dimittis: something usable regularly by the Choir, rather than concert pieces difficult to accommodate within everyday worship. Mäntyjärvi’s Lord’s Prayer (2002) was an inclusion from the start, and gradually the idea evolved of setting the entire service, including introit, Responses (with the earlier Lord’s Prayer embedded), a psalm chant and an anthem. As the composer has remarked, ‘this would have been a daunting proposition if presented to me right at the start, but by that time I had been to quite a few Evensongs at Trinity and had sufficient feel for the place to be confident’. The result was an extensive commission from The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge.

Notable for listeners is the impact of vocal divisions in the setting of Psalm 128 and also in the Responses. The psalm chant combines plangent richness with haunting introspection by oscillating freely between chords of six notes and (through unison doubling) just three. After three iterations of the double chant (covering six verses), the psalm’s concluding seventh verse necessitates modified treatment through a single chant. Mäntyjärvi heightens the effect here through upward transposition of the chant’s opening by a whole tone. For the Gloria, the double chant returns at its original pitch. Mäntyjärvi’s palette includes frequent dividing of the basses, combined with low-lying bass registers evocative of music from the Russian Orthodox liturgy. The impact on ears attuned mainly to the Anglican tradition is vivid, fresh and unexpected, especially when complemented by elliptical ‘false-relation’ harmonies espoused in the past by free atonalists such as the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974). Naturally, the more extended items are the canticle settings and the anthem. Ever the pragmatist, however, Mäntyjärvi heeds the diurnal pressures on rehearsal time for Evensong. The brief introit is a further Ave Maria setting, unexpectedly fleet of foot owing largely to the almost incessant quaver movement of its bass line. Creating a mood of expectancy, this integrates the music into Mäntyjärvi’s conception of the service as a complete, specific occasion.

The Magnificat is contemplative and ethereal, characterized by simplification of the rhythmic momentum. Similarly, the occasional challenge of unexpected harmonic directions (for example, at the phrase ‘the rich he hath sent empty away’) is mitigated by a high proportion of stepwise melodic motion, albeit without any hint of imaginative constraint. Here, and in the Nunc dimittis, one notes the insight of a composer who is a practising singer and conductor, able to conjure myriad nuances and elevations of his verbal text through subtle variations in the deployment of his musical materials. The end of the Nunc dimittis is marked by a startling bass descent which seems to reach the ocean floor as it settles on a ‘bottom’ A flat. This is given as an alternative ending in the score—but the composer was surprised to find no fewer than four Trinity basses equal to the task!

O lux beata Trinitas revisits the Phrygian modality favoured by the composer, with the flattened second note of its scale casting doubt that the sustained bass pedal octave beneath it is truly the tonal centre of gravity. This pedal note continues uninterrupted until liberation occurs with the words ‘Te mane laudum carmine, / Te deprecemur vespere’, whereupon the harmony acquires a new mobility, gradually blossoming forth. The pedal returns in the closing stages. Austere plainchant-like passages are offset by ethereal commentary from the upper parts, creating an impression of simultaneous earthbound and heavenly music.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2020

Recordings

Mäntyjärvi: Choral Music
Studio Master: CDA68266Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Part 01. Introit: Ave Maria
Track 7 on CDA68266 [1'34]
Part 02: Preces  O Lord, open thou our lips
Track 8 on CDA68266 [1'33]
Part 03: Psalm 128  Blessed are all they that fear the Lord
Track 9 on CDA68266 [2'41]
Part 04. Canticle 1: Magnificat  My soul doth magnify the Lord
Track 10 on CDA68266 [4'23]
Part 05. Canticle 2: Nunc dimittis  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace
Track 11 on CDA68266 [5'16]
Part 06: Responses  The Lord be with you … Let us pray
Track 12 on CDA68266 [0'54]
Part 07: The Lord's Prayer  Our Father, which art in heaven
Track 13 on CDA68266 [2'12]
Part 08: Responses & Collects  O Lord, show thy mercy upon us
Track 14 on CDA68266 [4'27]
Part 09. Anthem: O lux beata Trinitas
Track 15 on CDA68266 [4'25]
Part 10: Final Responses  The Lord be with you … Let us bless the Lord
Track 16 on CDA68266 [0'39]

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