Saturday 1st April 2017 at 7:30pm at All Saints Church, Maidstone
St John Passion Bob Chilcott
My setting of the Passion is an hour-long work telling the story of Christ’s Passion using the text from St John’s Gospel. It was written specially for Matthew Owens and the Choir of Wells Cathedral for performance within a Cathedral Service on Palm Sunday, March 24th 2013. The work is scored for Soprano and Tenor soloists, two Baritone soloists, Mixed Choir, viola and cello solo, brass quintet, organ and timpani.
As in the great Passion settings by J. S. Bach, the story is narrated by a tenor Evangelist. I have designed the narrative to be sung in an arioso style that gains momentum as the drama unfolds. The solo roles in the narrative have instruments from the ensemble that are identified with the respective roles – the Evangelist is accompanied by viola and cello solo, Pilate by two trumpets, and Jesus by horn, trombone, tuba and organ. The role of the choir within the narrative is to play the part of the crowd or of soldiers who comment from time to time in short outbursts.
The larger role that the choir has to play is the singing of four meditations that punctuate various points of the drama. The texts they sing are English poems from the 13th to the early 17th centuries that express deeply human responses to death, to life and to man’s relationship with the world and with God. Two of these meditations are sung by the choir with Soprano Solo, the last of which expresses most poignantly the human response to seeing Christ crucified on the Cross.
I have also set five well-known Passiontide hymn texts, (“It is a thing most wonderful,” “Jesus, grant me this, I pray,” “Drop, drop, slow tears,” “There is a green hill far away” and “When I survey the wondrous cross,”) and these hymns are designed to be sung by the choir and congregation together.
I was fortunate as a singer to sing the Evangelist role in both the great Passions of Bach a number of times. I also remember as a boy chorister in King’s College, Cambridge singing the simpler Renaissance versions of the Passion chanted by the Dean and Chaplain of the Chapel in Holy Week. It is the austerity, the agony and ultimately the grace of this story that has inspired me to write this piece.
Maidstone Choral Union’s experience of St John Passion
MCU members were lucky enough to have a planned Come and Sing Day, based on this work, led by Bob Chilcott himself. See News for a report.