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Program note: Desires: movements towards the divine (1997) Stephen Adams (b.1963)

  • The Song Company
  • Source: The Song Company Modern Art Series 1998 28, 29 July 1998

Desires: movements towards the divine (1997) Stephen Adams (b. 1963)
This is a work for vocal sextet and was commissioned by the Song Company in
1996. The 5 movements take verses from the famous 23rd Psalm ("The Lord's
My Shepherd") as a starting point for the exploration of some motivating desires
of religious feeling, commitment and belief.
The movements are:
1. Beloved , combining the opening 2 verses of the psalm with verses
from the Song of Solomon and the Masnavi by Jalalu'd'din Rumi, to lose the self
in the pursuit of union with the divine other. [The alto and bass voices take the
leading roles, accompanied by male and female choruses. They sing of their love,
to their love and finally, with the beloved, exchanging their musical characters in
the process.]
2. My Soul (discipline and purify) - verse 3 of the psalm is worked over
and over, accruing to it fragments of wisdom from many traditions in search of a
discipline that will purify the soul, a desire to transcend the limitations of this
earth. [The 6 voices work together and in parallel in a series of approaches to the
central text, finally leaving it behind.]
3. The Valley of Death - a landscape of contemporary horrors elaborated
around the first lines of verse 4, lifting off into divergent wish-fulfilment
fantasies of prophetic justice, vengeance and heavenly transformation. [A low
SATB quartet move between solo chant and choral rap textures before separating
into folk protest, choral duet and private rapping layers, finally achieving a gridlocked
conglomerate hallucination.]
4. My Table - a textual and musical improvisation around verse 5 which
pursues earthly success and well-being, enlisting the divine in a frenetic rush
towards self-vindication. [This is a "quartet" in which a lone soprano soars and
wails over the firmament of repetitive text and rhythms from the 3 male voices.]
5. In God's House - explores the desire for coherence and certainty
through the assurances of the final verse of Psalm 23, the moral symmetry of
promises from the Sermon on the Mount, and the minimal experiential certainties
of life's patterns as expressed in words from the Taoist poet Lu Yu. [A high
quartet of sopranos, alto and tenor explores a range of textures growing out of
the word "surely", including solos for the tenor and alto voices and brief
appearances from a fifth voice.]


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