2012-12-09 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars

Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion and turneth the shadow of death into the morning. (Amos 5:8)
Alleluia, yea, the darkness shineth as the day, the night is light about me. (Psalm 139)
Amen.

The modern British composer, Jonathan Dove (born 1959), is best known for his many operatic works. His music demonstrates his desire to communicate and entertain his audiences while providing them with a transformative experience. He has arranged operas for the English Touring Opera and the City of Birmingham Touring Opera (now Birmingham Opera Company), and was Artistic Director of the Spitalfields Festival from 2001 to 2006. In addition to composing music for the stage, Dove has also written vocal and choral works, orchestral pieces, and chamber music.

Dove studied piano, organ and viola, and graduated from Cambridge University where he studied composition with Robin Holloway. He worked as a freelance accompanist and arranger, which gave him an opportunity to become well acquainted with operatic and vocal music.

Choirs from around the world are including Dove’s many choral works among their repertoire. He has received commissions to write choral works from King’s College Cambridge and the Cathedral Organist’s Association. Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts and first performed at St James’s, Piccadilly, in May 1995. Dove wrote the following program note describing this piece:

The theme of light, and starlight in particular, is an endless source of inspiration for composers. I came across these words about light and stars while looking for a text to set as an anthem for the Royal Academy of Arts’ annual Service for Artists: I thought these images would have a special meaning for visual artists. The anthem begins with a musical image of the night sky, a repeated organ motif of twinkling stars that sets the choir wondering who made them. The refrain ‘Seek him’ starts in devotional longing but is eventually released into a joyful dance, finally coming to rest in serenity.

In Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars, Dove incorporates elements of minimalism, a compositional process that relies on minimal musical material; the style is characterized by static harmony, a steady pulse, the reiteration of musical figures or motifs, and a process of gradual transformations. Aspects of word painting are also contained within this work: the opening organ motif suggesting the twinkling of the stars, and the shift of meter to 7/8 for the seven stars at the conclusion.

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