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Mourning and the light within : for SATB chorus and Orchestra

by John Peterson (2006)

Mourning and the light within


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Mourning and the light within : for SATB chorus and orchestra / John Peterson.

Library shelf no. Q 782.554/PET 2 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

Mourning and the Light Within is a meditation on death, in particular the death of a child, or children, in tragic circumstances.

The opening section of the work sets the opening verses of the Latin text known as the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, a thirteenth century hymn that details the suffering and sorrow of Mary, Jesus Christ's mother, witnessing the death of her son during his crucifixion. The text represents the mother-son bond that unites Mary with Jesus during his experience of suffering and death - an experience with which any parent, who has had to deal with the death of a child, can identify. Initially the musical accompaniment to the text ebbs and flows, as if expressing 'waves' of emotion, but becomes more rhythmically aggressive and harmonically dissonant in the second part of this section, representing, for me at least, another stage in the mourning process - anger.

The middle section of this work sets various extracts from newspaper accounts of the 2005 commemoration service that marked the first anniversary of the end of a hostage crisis that occurred at a school in the Russian town of Beslan on 3 September, 2004. The stark images expressed in the texts are a vivid reminder of just how many families were affected by this tragedy and of the depth of their personal loss. One particular image, that of a bell sounding during the commemorative service, has influenced many aspects of the way in which the musical accompaniment works in this section. In fact, when the two pianos enter the orchestral texture, almost halfway through this section, they act much like tolling bells - doleful and almost agonisingly repetitive - with each piano chord representing one child lost during the hostage crisis: there are one hundred and eighty six chords here, reminding us of the enormity of this tragedy. The final texts in this section are freely adapted from the writings of Seneca and Plutarch regarding the death of children.

The final section of this work is a setting of a few well-known lines from Ecclesiastes 3, as well as several verses from the ending of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa text. While the fast tempo and rhythmic energy inherent in the music here might indicate a celebratory dance, there is still an aura of regret that emanates from the music. However, hope is the light within the darkness and we should always remember that mourning is not forgetting; indeed it is an opportunity to reflect and, in turn, celebrate the happier memories of a life too often cut brutally short.

Work Details

Year: 2006

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 3 bassoons, contra-bassoon, 4 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (1 player), harp, 2 pianos, SATB chorus, cellos, double basses.

Duration: 18 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Royal Melbourne Philharmonic with funds provided by Australia Council. Music Board.

First performance: by Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, Andrew Wailes — 7 Oct 06. Melbourne Town Hall

Text is from the Latin hymn 'Stabat Mater' and the Bible.

Performances of this work

7 Oct 06: Melbourne Town Hall. Featuring Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, Andrew Wailes.

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