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ClassicsOnline Home » VICTORY: Ultima Rerum
"The recording, with its natural perspectives, is an excellent example of Chris Craker's work in Dublin's national Concert Hall, and there is some accomplished solo singing...I hope anyone interested in post-war choral music will seek out this often rewarding issue."
Gerard Victory (b. 1921)
Dublin born composer Gerard Victory has had a long and successful career in music and broadcasting. Educated
at Belvedere College, he holds degrees from both University and Trinity Colleges in Dublin. In 1972 he was awarded
a Doctorate in Music by the
former and has been presented with the Order of Merit of the German Federal Republic and the Ordre des Arts et
des Lettres of
has been President of the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers. He joined Radio Eireann
in 1948 and became Director of Music in 1967 until his retirement in 1982.
His compositions are plentiful and range across many musical styles: his
operas include The Music Hath Mischief, staged by the Dublin Grand Opera
Society in 1969, and Chatterton which was broadcast by French Radio in 1971.
His many orchestral compositions include Jonathan Swift (1972), The Land of Lilliput, for the inauguration of
the RTE Cor na nOg, and four
symphonies, the latest of which was given its first performance by the National Symphony
Orchestra in July 1991.
The first performance of Ultima Rerum took place in 1984 and a
second performance was given at
the National Concert Hall in March 1988. The composition took the composer a
number of years, beginning in 1975 with research into possible texts for a
major symphonic choral work: the awarding of the Hamilton Harty Bursary by the
Arts Councils of Ireland and Northern Ireland greatly helped with the project. Gerard Victory decided to
use the traditional Requiem of the
Roman Rite as the framework, adding texts from non-Christian sources such as the
Koran, Navajo Indians and the Norse Edda, as well as incorporating the poetry
of Blake, Flecker, Leopardi, Tennyson and Whitman. There are also passages
from the Psalms and the Gaelic Lebor na hUidre.
The composer has provided the following background notes to the work and a description of each movement:
The first half or Canto of the work ends unusually with the Offertorium
which has been normally treated
traditionally as an Interlude but is here given a special climactic significance. In
general, the mood of the work's two halves progresses from despair to hope but
by two different paths, the first towards a ritualised liturgical faith - the second by the path of more isolated
personal courage and mystical
The musical material of the work is basically neo-classic but makes excursions towards elements of other
styles as occasion demands – these
elements of mediaeval technique, atonal chromatic writing and other modern techniques including
impressionist aleatoric sections.
The material is closely related to motivic elements found in the opening
bars of the work and shortly
afterwards unfolded and developed in the choir's Kyrie and in the baritone solos in the
Sequence (b) provides much of the melodic material - a scale basically Lydian in character i.e. three tones
and a semi-tone in its ascending form. It appears in many different
transformations however, often influenced by elements in the adjoining sequences
(a) and (c).
A feature that is characteristically frequent - namely alternating falling thirds derives from a pairing of the notes
in (b) and the falling major third of (c). This is an example:
(in 'Canzone Funebre')
Motive (c) is frequently extended to form a chromatic scale.
I have modified the motivic analysis somewhat as compared with my programme note of 1984 to give a
fuller picture of the range of material playing an important role in the texture.
The motif (a) - a rising fourth appears frequently as a starting interval in the melodic line and is reflected
strongly in the harmony of the more extrovert joyous sections, for example in the Offertorium
The work is firmly based for the most part on tonal centres which,
however, generally follow a rising
scalic pattern throughout many of the movements and do not exhibit the key relationships
familiar in classical music.
The four soloists - soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone are deliberately not confined to
individual separate roles. They frequently interchange dramatic for liturgical
narrative roles although the baritone appears most frequently as a detached observer or
commentator. The small choir generally sings more meditative music, the large choir being often reserved for broader utterances. The
two choirs merge in the climactic sections. The Children's Choir is confined to the Koran verses in the Offertorium. The orchestral forces
are normal with the optional addition of the organ used in some choral passages.
1. Kyrie (Soloists and Choirs)
The introduction moves rapidly from the tranquil statement of the
opening note-row and the
mezzo-soprano's Kyrie to a frenetic instrumental climax and a despairing cry from the large
choir. This leads to the Garden Scene at the end of Flecker's Hassan.
The baritone soloist as the Spirit of the Maker of the Fountain welcomes
the souls of the two lovers, Rafi
and Pervaneh (soprano and tenor) who have died in torture at the Caliph's hands.
They learn that their survival is only momentary - they are swept away by the great wind
together with the souls of the unborn children who learn with the soprano's last heroic cry that
'Life is Sweet'.
2. Canzone Funebre (Tenor and Male Choir)
The Canzone Funebre is an interlude from Leopardi - an expression of despair. The voices of the departed
echo the futility of life and its meaninglessness. They find death equally absurd and the memory of what they were - a mere shadow.
3. Dies irae (Soloists and Large Choir)
From fear of dissolution to the fear of eternal torment. Selected verses
from the Dies Irae sung
in a fast triple rhythm to a variation of the basic row are followed by sections of Blake's Vision
of the Last Judgement drawn from his Visionary Books. The mezzo-soprano,
tenor and soprano soloists in turn build the picture of the world's
terrifying end. A slower interlude features a pathetic soprano declamation of the Lacrimosa
and leads to a faster recapitulation of the opening Dies irae.
4. De Profundis (Mezzo-Soprano Solo and Small Choir)
This interlude is the first bridge from despair to hope. A pastoral
morning sound is suggested by the
opening oboe solo and distant small bells. The mezzo-soprano soloist and small
choir join in a sinuous melodic line announcing the Psalm and the alternating figure of
minor thirds predominates. After a free declamation over strings a canonic passage on the words 'et copiso redemptio' leads to a climax.
5. Offertorium (Soloists and Choirs)
This is a major movement ending the first canto or half of the work. The musical language moves towards a
style owing much to mediaeval polyphony with impressionist interludes. The
fanfare-like refrain Domine Jesu
is interleaved with the traditional appeal for the release of departed souls. Libera eas
which first appears in a rather pictorially florid form on baritone solo. The Lydian scale
derived from motif (a) appears strongly in the choral exclamation of the
promise to Abraham.
The augmented fourth (Tritone) F-B dominates the rhythmic Navajo chant (with the original words) which is a
primitive description of Heaven - it is then repeated
in English by the choir in a more conventional tonal style.
The Children's Choir sing the verses of the Koran on the joys of Paradise to the accompaniment of harp and
All the previous elements combine in contrapuntal style leading to the resumption of the liturgical text in
a mediaeval florid fugato from the soloists. There is a slower antiphonal choral
recitation of Hostias et preces and finally there is a triumphant climax on the
refrain Domine Jesu Christe Rex Gloriae.
1. Canzone a se Stesso (Mezzo-Soprano Solo)
The darkness of despair returns with Leopardi's 'song to one's self'.
After a furtive pizzicato introduction
on cellos the alto saxophone plays a lonely Lydian tune clearly related to both motives
(b) and (c). The mezzo-soprano solo takes up the same theme in an Italianate
style which combines echoes of early music with a linear sensuous fluidity reminiscent
of romantic opera. The song expresses the disillusion of a tired heart, convinced only of the
bitterness of life and
the oblivion of eternity. The climax again features the tritone C-F sharp strongly.
2. Sanctus (Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Soloists and Choir)
After a tranquil introduction on alternating woodwind and strings the
soprano soloist sings a florid
Sanctus in which the notes are gradually modified in accidentals to carry the tonal
centre from A to C. Tennyson's Ring Out Wild Bells and let him Die features a Lydian bell
There follows a series of verses - breathless in rhythms and rising in
tension, the chorus making the
refrain. A calmer solo section leads to the speculation on nature's cruelty in which
soprano, tenor and baritone alternate. A violent climax gives way to the final elegy
- Come, let us go, your
cheeks are pale – the bell motif now transformed to one of
wistful consolation and regret.
3. In Paradisum (Small Choir)
Apart from a short introduction this movement for the small choir is unaccompanied. The style is wistful
and lyrical with a faster more graphic middle section illustrating the welcoming chorus of angels.
4. Benedictus (Large and Small Choirs)
A joyful interlude. The fanfare-like chorus on the liturgical text
recalls the Offertorium and sweeps positively
along in a hymn of praise and confidence. The small choir respond with an
ancient Scandinavian description of Paradise in the original old Norse and in translation. The Benedictus
is repeated and both
anthems are combined at the end in a dying fall.
5. Agnus Dei (Soloists and Choirs)
The final and extensive movement combines many of the musical elements and stylistic devices heard earlier
on. In turn, the mezzo-soprano, soprano, tenor soloists sing the text in
canon to the phrase,
which reflects the falling thirds of motive (b). The trio gradually
impressionist section - material from the Kyrie and Dies irae is repeated developing into a frenetic multiple
declamation from both choirs.
As this feroce section subsides, the baritone soloist sings lines
from Whitman's Sleepers.
On the words -
the Light the
large choir sings verses
from an old Irish Visionary text describing the light - brighter than all light - of the world to come.
The baritone soloist breaks through the communal song ‘to launch the
ship of his soul’ alone into the unknown trusting more to the wonder and unity
of Creation and to his human courage. The rising intensity of the lines
dominates responses from the Choir. These lines from Whitman’s Passage to
India and used also in Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony are in my
opinion among the very finest poetic passages ever written and their
excellence, I hope, has justified their inclusion in spite of the musical comparisons
they may indeed give rise to.
After the cry of ‘joy’ from the chorus the other soloists repeat the Agnus
Dei in hushed tones – a spoken montage dissolves into silence interrupted
only by a vague harp chord and a distant stroke on the tamtam.
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VICTORY: Ultima Rerum