Piece of the Week 39: Cantate Gloria

Last weekend, in York, was the Convention of the Association of British Choral Directors (ABCD). This was a big affair, and the first one since the Covid pandemic – previous to that there was one every August Bank Holiday weekend, in a different part of the country each year. Unfortunately I was unable to get to this one, but I have been to nearly 20 of them, and they are always an exciting and busy time, with a mixture of workshops, concerts, a large range of exhibitors, etc. And of course there is the opportunity to meet people and renew friendships with conductors, singers, publishers and promoters.

The first convention I went to was in Cambridge in 1999, and for this one I was invited, not only to write a piece for a visiting youth choir from Canada, but also to write a piece for the all the convention attendees to sing at the final concert!  The director of the convention for this year was the conductor Peter Davies, who has commissioned quite a few pieces from me over the years, and this time he decided that it would be an interesting approach if I were to write the piece during the weekend, in time for the final concert, and also that I should be seen to be writing it, sitting at a table in the main hall!  I duly complied on the Friday evening and the Saturday, although I did have a pretty good idea of what I was going to write, and then on the Sunday morning the photocopier whizzed into action and everyone sung it in the afternoon, conducted by Bruce Pullan, the guest conductor for the weekend.

Various texts were suggested, but in the end I settled on the words ‘Cantate Gloria’ and their English translation ‘Sing Glory’ – that was the complete text, which is suitably celebratory. I also, of course, had not only to write the music quite quickly, but also make it not too difficult to learn – and this helped me with giving the piece a logical design.

The words ‘Sing Glory’ gave me a rhythmic tag which recurs through most of the piece, sometimes in the foreground and sometimes in the background. The main melody, using the Latin text, appears three times, the first time in the upper voices accompanied by the ‘sing glory’ rhythm in the men, the second time in a two-part canon in the men (accompanied by ‘sing glory’ in the upper two voices), and the third time in a four-part canon in all voices. Then, following each of these statements, a grander and more chordal ‘Gloria’ leads to the ‘sing glory’ tag in all voices, each of these three statements beginning on a higher note than the previous one, making the final statement the most climactic.

The printed music is published by Oxford University Press here, and for digital downloads go to Chimes Digitalor to Sheet Music Plus

There is a YouTube recording here.

There’s also another YouTube recording here – please listen to the one above first because it is much more accurate: but this one is despatched with delightful enthusiasm!