CANTATA ELIENSIS, ACT III
Composer Louis Mander writes:
My approach to the composition of the third tranche of the dramatic telling of the building and consecration of Ely Cathedral was one of thematic unity through a six note motif, leitmotif if you will, which is manipulated, extrapolated and varied throughout the development of the narrative. After an initial instrumental prelude which captures the misty, transient and ephemeral nature of the fenland, this six note figure is presented in the bass in the first scene; it tolls like a distant bell, calling the monks and nuns to their worship. This motif then provides the harmonic underlay for a bustling chorus of townsfolk who are awaiting in awe the arrival of Abbot Richard of Bec to Ely. A triumphant and resplendent chorus heralds his entry into the city, this is then followed by a declamatory and charismatic oration by Richard, in recitative and speak-singing, calling the townsfolk to action.
The central device of speak-singing which I have deployed to the baritone role is one which captures the dramatic realism of his plighted oration. The monks and nuns quail at the thought of such a tremendous undertaking and Richard is downhearted, a broken man, at this crossroads in the drama, I have used the folk song melody The Lynn Apprentice, saliently highlighting the pathos and testing apprenticeship of the task of building a Cathedral. This instrumental interlude serves to arrest the drama momentarily, and reveals Richard's fragile side. This folk melody is then manipulated into a passionate aria and then duet, with a sudden and crucial intervention of Saint Werburh. This otherworldly vision serves as a structural underpinning to the persuasive power of Richard's task, and Werburh revisits Richard at the close of the work, when the great task has been achieved. What follows next, inspired by the motivation of Saint Werburh is a series of active and mercantile choruses, from those that contributed to the holistic task of building the Cathedral: stoneworkers, carpenters, traders etc. The chorus of widows, traders, farmers and fishermen I decided to draw from the rich folk tradition again and assign each voice type of the chorus to an individual folk song melody. This carefully and contrapuntally is worked into 4-part invertible counterpoint, and with a great deal of serendipity, each melody interweaves with homogeneity.
What follows the successful completion of the structuring of the Cathedral is a ceremonial and epic-sized celebration, deploying the full force of the ensemble: Organ, harp, strings, saxophone, flute, piano, percussion, full chorus, semi-chorus and soloists. This triumphant scene is then brought down to rest as Richard, now exhausted from his labours retires to his cell to pass into the next life. He is finally greeted by Saint Werburh who reminds him of his great effort and they sing in duet as he passes away. Only the monks remain, singing a brief strain of the In paradisum as the music ebbs away to nothing, each instrument leaving the texture as an aural metaphor of the dispersion of Richard's soul.