Path of Miracles
Few American choral music enthusiasts know anything at all about Joby Talbot, composer of Path of Miracles, a major a cappella choral work of which Chorale will perform a portion, on our upcoming June concert. So I’ll begin this post by quoting verbatim from a Wikipedia article: "Joby Talbot (born 25 August 1971) is a British composer. He has written for a wide variety of purposes and an accordingly broad range of styles, including instrumental and vocal concert music, film and television scores, pop arrangements and works for dance. He is therefore known to sometimes disparate audiences for quite different works.
"Prominent compositions include the a cappella choral works The Wishing Tree (2002) and Path of Miracles (2005); orchestral works Sneaker Wave (2004), Tide Harmonic (2009), Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity (2012) and Meniscus (2012); the theme and score for the popular BBC Two comedy series The league of Gentlemen (1999-2002); silent film scores The Lodger (1999) and The Dying Swan (2002) for the British Film Institute; film scores The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Son of Rambow (2007) and Penelope (2008).
"Works for dance include Chroma (2006), Genus (2007), Fool’s Paradise (2007), Chamber Symphony (2012), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2011, revived 2012 and 2013) and The Winter’s Tale (2014), the latter two being full-length narrative ballet scores commissioned by The Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.
"Talbot premiered his first opera in January 2015 with the Dallas Opera. A one-act work entitled Everest and with a libretto by Gene Scheer, it follows three of the climbers involved in the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster."
So. He is young and full of talent; he creatively and fearlessly crosses boundaries and hears possibilities the rest of us hadn’t imagined. And he seems wonderfully energetic and creative.
Path of Miracles charts and describes the medieval pilgrimage across France and Spain to Santiago de Compostella, the final resting place of the remains of St. James. The work’s four movements are titled after the four main staging areas along the route-- Roncesvalles (at the foot of the Pyrenees), Burgos, Leon, and finally Santiago. The work’s librettist, Robert Dickinson, has constructed a narrative which includes quotations from various medieval texts, especially the Codex Calixtinus and a 15th century work in the Galician language called Miragres de Santiago, all held together with passages from the Roman liturgy and lines of original poetry by Dickinson himself. In mood, the work passes from opening excitement and euphoria, through fatigue, pain and suffering, suspicion and discouragement, desolation, to a growing sense of change, of freedom, of joy and light, until the final explosion of joy as the journey ends.
Chorale will present the third movement, Leon, which Talbot describes as a “Lux Aeterna”-- a musical imaging of the interior of the Cathedral of Leon. At this point in the work’s narrative the journey is more than half over, the pains and hardships of the earlier days have been overcome, and the pilgrims proceed almost hypnotically toward their goal. The movement begins with a refrain in C minor sung by four different soprano lines simultaneously—a canon against which the men’s voices sing a narrative, recitative-like line, describing the journey. By the end of the movement, the women’s refrain has modulated from minor to major. The choir sings, “Here daylight gives an image of the heaven promised by His love. We pause, as at the heart of a sun that dazzles and does not burn.”
I expect that anyone hearing this music for the first time will respond as I did, and still do. It is very beautiful, evocative, compelling; Talbot is a major new voice for us choral geeks. I hope he composes more for us.