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ClassicsOnline Home » DOVE, J.: Passing of the Year (The) (Convivium Singers, Cromar, Ferris)
Jonathan Dove is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music, and his writing for choral forces is charged with intensity and beauty. The Passing of the Year is dedicated to the memory of his mother and sets seven texts with moving directness and a beguiling sense of the seasons’ passing. It sounded as if the streets were running also celebrates nature, his setting of the storm imagery in Emily Dickinson’s poetry rich in surging climaxes. Vivid characterisation, this time of animals, suffuses Who killed Cock Robin? which, like all Dove’s music, is hugely approachable, varied and exciting.
Jonathan Dove (b. 1959)
The Passing of the Year
Jonathan Dove was born in London in 1959. His early musical experiences came from playing the piano, organ and viola. He studied composition with Robin Holloway at Cambridge University and, after graduation, worked as a freelance accompanist, repetiteur, animateur and arranger. As a composer his breakthrough commission was the airport comedy Flight. Originally commissioned for Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1998, Flight was soon produced as part of the main festival and broadcast on network television, and has since gone on to achieve astounding success, with some thirteen productions to date in Europe, the United States and Australia. The community opera Tobias and the Angel and The Palace In The Sky, commissioned by English National Opera, followed.
Dove’s natural sense for theatre often finds its way into his instrumental compositions. Stargazer, a concerto for trombone and orchestra commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra has been described by him as an opera for the solo instrument—the initial stimulus being a typically theatrical image of the trombone as a kind of musical telescope. In The Magic Flute Dances, a concerto for flute and orchestra, Dove imagines the life of Mozart’s eponymous instrument once the opera has ended. Moonlight Revels, a double concerto for trumpet and saxophone describes the volatile relationship between Shakespeare’s Titania and Oberon.
Other highlights include a BBC Radio 3 commission for their sixtieth anniversary, Hojoki, a ‘concert scena’ for counter-tenor and orchestra. The inauguration by Her Majesty the Queen of the Millennium footbridge across the Thames was celebrated with Handelian aplomb in Fanfares Across The Thames, with groups on each bank of the Thames and on a barge on the river firing musical volleys at each other. In 2010 A Song of Joys for chorus and orchestra opened the festivities at the Last Night of the Proms. He has received a Royal Philharmonic Society award, two British Composers Awards and an Ivor Novello Award for his compositions.
Dove’s understanding of the individual voice transfers readily into his choral music, and he has composed many works for concert and liturgical use that are in the repertoires of choirs worldwide. Commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus and dedicated in memory of his mother, the song cycle for double chorus The Passing of the Year is a collection of seven movements that fall into three main sections. The first section looks forward to summer, beginning with a line from William Blake (O Earth, O Earth return!). The narrow bud comes from Blake’s To Autumn, but is a description of summer as the music reflects aurally and on the score the flowers opening in the sun. The rapid questions of Emily Dickinson’s poem Answer July suggest the quickening senses, the excitement of everything bursting into life, and summer’s triumphant arrival. The second section follows the passing of summer. It begins in sultry heat, so hot that the music can barely move, with a song from the opening scene of George Peele’s David and Bethsabe (Hot sun, cool fire): a girl bathing in a spring feels the power and danger of her beauty. Another William Blake setting, Ah, Sun-flower! brings to the senses that relentless summer heat before the section ends with the sense of mortality the autumn brings: Thomas Nashe’s Adieu! farewell earth’s bliss heralds the death of summer in portentous fashion; the constant refrain ‘Lord, have mercy on us’ is passed from one chorus to the other, the slow weary tread of the piano evoking sickness and impending death. The cycle ends in winter, on New Year’s Eve with a passage from Tennyson’s In Memoriam. The mood is one of promise of what the New Year can bring, and what can readily be left behind, before the sound of the bells drifts away into the morning air.
In beauty may I walk was written as a leaving present for Anthony Whitworth Jones, a great supporter of Dove and the commissioner of numerous works for the Glyndebourne Festival including Flight. The anonymous words of the Navajo tribe, translated by the American poet Jerome K. Rothenberg, receive a simple and beautiful setting from the composer, based around a ‘walking pace’ chant-like phrase in the bass part. The sounds of the birds are heard in the upper voices around the words ‘beautifully joyful’ before the original walking theme returns, this time building to a joyous climax before the listener is left gazing quiet and still at the beauty around them.
My love is mine is a setting for solo mezzo-soprano of the verses from the Song of Solomon, transcribed by Miles Coverdale. It evokes the traditional folk-song in style, with two contrasting ideas; the first is the call ‘O stand up, my love…and come’ which gathers a certain amount of impatient momentum. This is in contrast to the more assured ‘My love is mine, and I am his.’
Who killed Cock Robin? was commissioned by the Welsh Amateur Music Federation for the tenth anniversary of the National Youth Choir of Wales. It is a vivid setting of the well-known fable, and the characterisation of the different animals as they speak is cleverly woven into the vocal parts. There is consistent bird-like chatter depicting each of the feathered creatures (the sparrow, owl, rook, lark, linnet), a steadily weaving beetle, a grief-stricken and hauntingly expressive dove mourning her love, and a lumbering bull tolling the bell. The last section contains some clever and evocative word painting; four solo birds are calling after Cock Robin whilst in the background there is a rustling of sighing and sobbing.
It sounded as if the streets were running is a set of three songs for upper voices of poems by Emily Dickinson, commissioned by Andreas Klatt in 2006 for the award-winning Farnham Youth Choir. The torrents after a storm are captured in the opening poem, rushing from voice to voice, before fresher air comes wafting through the voices in the closing bars. I saw no way is an ‘otherworldly’ struggle through the heavens; the parts are knitted together to illustrate the stitching of the skies and columns closing in the poem. How happy is the little Stone is the epitome of imitative writing, at one time the melody appearing a beat or two apart in four different voice parts. This driving motor persists throughout the piece before building towards an exultant climax.
A commission for the Spitalfields Festival and first performed by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, I am the day perfectly displays the composer’s style and obvious appeal. Repeated motifs (here ‘I am alpha and omega’) are unified by over-arching melodies (‘I am the day’) that create great beauty and power. The Advent text from Revelation chapter 22 is also combined with an echo of the Advent hymn O come, o come Emmanuel that is never fully present but provides a unifying element to the carol.
Wellcome, all wonders in one sight is a setting of the metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw from his extended poem An Hymne of the Nativity, as sung by the Shepherds. Here the repeated motif is the hypnotic ‘Wellcome wonder’, overlaid with the melodic line of the shepherds telling what they saw at Christ’s birth.
The Three Kings was commissioned by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge for its annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 2000. Choosing a poem of Dorothy L. Sayers of the same title, Dove depicts the Kings simply (here represented as three ages of man) alongside the binding refrain ‘O balow, balow la lay’. Perhaps unexpectedly, the King who is very old brings the gold, unleashing an excited and energetic burst of activity as the gaud, baubles and glittering toys are thrust forward. After glorious cadences the piece ends in calm reflection.
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DOVE, J.: Passing of the Year (The) (Convivium Sin...