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About the Works

Mr. Angel began commissioning composers by approaching Malcolm Archer, whose direction had shaped his early musical studies as a chorister in the Bristol Cathedral Choir. Having lived in the United States for several years and with Mr. Angel in mind, Archer selected a text by renowned American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Archer’s setting of Stowe’s ‘Mary at the Cross’ reflects the beautiful melodic writing for which he is known, and highlights the contrast between Mary’s humble upbringing and the lowly manger of Jesus’ birth with her glorious calling to bear the son of God. The poem concludes with the traditional Marian figure mourning the loss of her son on the cross, oscillating between visions of earthly woe and heavenly glory.

The project title comes from the name of New York-based composer Gregory Spears’ original work, Our Lady of Love and Sorrows. Our Lady is a setting of two poetry fragments written in medieval Provençal by the troubadour Guirant Riquier (1230-1292).The first movement sets a short devotional text while musically depicting the seven sorrows - or swords - of Mary. The second movement is a war-like song in which a troubadour renounces his previous loves in favor of a spiritual love for Mary. Spears was particularly intrigued by the dramatic friction between the courtly and devotional themes present in this text, depicted, in part, by the marked contrast in sentiment between his two movements. The second movement is an extended aria inspired by the way in which these troubadour poems blend courtly, chivalric, and devotional sensibilities, and is a movement of great lyricism and passion.

In contrast to Spears’ theme of courtly love, Jackson Hill’s El Duelo illustrates the sorrow of Mary with a distinctive, lively style. Hill’s selected text consists of six quatrains extracted from a long poem in Old Spanish, ‘El Duelo que Fizo la Vergin Maria’ by Gonzalo de Berceo (c. 1190 - c. 1260). The poem comprises 210 stanzas of narrative and dialogue, first, between the Mary and Saint Bernard, and then ultimately between Mary and Christ on the cross. Hill’s musical setting incorporates Andalusian harmonies and 13th-century harmonic progressions. The vocal line is at times reminiscent of Spanish folk song in its melodic flourishes that suggest the Arabic melodic influences that dominated Spanish music in the Middle Ages.

French composer Vincent Bouchot’s work written for Mr. Angel presents a distinctly modern, angular interpretation of the iconic ‘Stabat Mater’ text in a marked contrast from Vivaldi’s setting of the same. Bouchot’s piece consists of a systematic exploration, both melodic and harmonic, of all intervals ranging from a semi-tone (at the beginning) to the full span of an octave (at the end).

The two final commissions for this project are currently underway and are not included in the scope of this grant proposal. California native Julian Wachner is in process of setting the traditional ‘Regina Coeli’ text for Mr. Angel, and English composer Tarik O’Regan has titled his work Now Fatal Change, using text from The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation.