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Sicut aquilae

First line:
Hast thou not known?
author of text
Isaiah 40: 28-31

When St John’s College celebrated its 500th anniversary, we commissioned five new works for the occasion—from James MacMillan, James Long, John Rutter, Judith Weir and Jonathan Harvey. Sicut aquilae (2011) was in fact the second of three works which James Long wrote for us in consecutive years. Get wisdom (2010) had been composed during our inaugural New Music partnership with Choir & Organ magazine; it was also James’s first choral work. Vigilate (2012) features on our Advent Live album. Long graduated from King’s College, Cambridge, in 2009. I am extremely grateful to his final-year composition teacher, Giles Swayne, for recommending James to me. Long describes how Swayne 'really knocked me into shape, teaching me to think critically and to take stuffy academic models with a pinch of salt'.

When commissioning I have always encouraged composers to consider using a different instrument with the choir—either in place of the organ or in addition to it. Long’s exhilarating trumpet writing creates a pleasing parallel with the Trompeta Real part which Michael Tippett wrote in his own commission for the College’s 450th anniversary.

The eagle is a traditional symbol for St John the Evangelist, the College’s patron saint. Hence Long’s choice of text from Isaiah 40, a Biblical chapter which has been much used by composers, not least by Handel in Messiah. The work employs a wide range of characters and textures, from the arresting opening to a passage marked 'fragile' in the score, 'Even the youths shall faint'. As a means of generating material, the composer used a number of musical cyphers in the piece, spelling out words like 'College' and 'Eagles' in the trumpet part—though the listener is not expected to detect these!

from notes by Andrew Nethsingha © 2021


The tree
SIGCD691Download only Available Friday 19 November 2021


Track 3 on SIGCD691 [6'31] Download only Available Friday 19 November 2021

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD691 track 3

Recording date
5 July 2011
Recording venue
St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Recording engineer
Hyperion usage
  1. The tree (SIGCD691)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: 19 November 2021
    Download only Available Friday 19 November 2021
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