Ronald Corp

Conductor & Composer


Mary's Song 

This score can be hired from Beckenham Chorale who have neatly hand-written vocal scores, the orchestral score and parts.

Programme Notes

Mary’s Song was written for Beckenham Chorale who premiered it under James Blair in 2001, and a second performance followed on 21 November 2009 in a concert also featuring Beethoven’s Mass in C.  The soloists were Catherine Rogers, Susanna Spicer, Mark Dobell and Stuart Young with the same conductor and the Albemarle Orchestra.

The cantata consists of a Magnificat in Latin interspersed with English texts: initially, a setting of George Barlow’s poem, The Soul.  The work also includes Blake’s The Divine Image, which started life as a song in 1970, now re-worked and arranged for bigger forces.

Joan Rodgers sang The Soul with piano accompaniment at the all-Corp Wigmore Hall concert in 2007.  Later in the concert, the mezzo-soprano Catherine Hopper sang The Divine Image in one of its earlier voice-and-piano forms.  The very first version from 1970 is included in the set of songs, The Music of Blake.

Furthermore, some of the Magnificat music from Mary’s Song found its way into the last movement of Symphony No. 1, giving a spiritual undertow to the mood of gradually rising optimism in that work.

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One of the first decisions I had to make when receiving the commission to write a choral work for the Beckenham Chorale in 2001 was – what text should I set?  In two previous choral works I had come up with the happy idea of combining Latin and English texts – in the case of And All the Trumpets Sounded (1989) the Latin words were the sequence – Dies irae – and the English words were British and American war poems; in Laudamus (1994) I juxtaposed the Latin Te Deum with poetry by Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I had found in writing these two works that the Latin presented me with a freedom to express language in a musical style which was not bound by the nuance of every word or syllable; whereas the English poems begged to be set with meticulous regard for rhythms and meaning.  One consequence of this approach has been the distribution of text between the choir and soloists – with the choir taking the lion’s share of the Latin and the soloists singing in English.

I wanted to set the Magnificat – ‘Mary’s Song’ – and felt that the various verses of Latin text were a springboard to English poems which could reflect on some of the themes presented in the Latin.  So (for example) the work begins with the choir singing Magnificat anima mea – ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ – and the soprano soloist follows this joyful outburst with the poem The Soul by George Barlow which takes up the theme of the rejoicing soul.  I hope this sequence of Latin Magnificat verses and English texts provides welcome contrast and variety; it was certainly great fun to bounce literary ideas around the Latin text.

As the piece grew – and it is longer than the choir had anticipated! – the structure became ever clearer.  What was not really planned (and happened almost by accident) was the recurrence of certain musical motifs throughout the work.  Some of these are of course deliberate – the opening music comes back as Quia fecit mihi magna (movement five), and makes a final return in the last movement; but many smaller musical ideas feature here and there throughout the piece, and I hope give the work a sense of musical unity.

As I began writing the work I called it Mary’s Song, with the idea that a better title might be round the corner.  But I came to realise that Mary’s song is exactly what it is – Mary’s song of joy at the acceptance of God’s will.  I hope some of the ecstatic joy Mary must have felt spills over into Mary’s Song and into tonight’s performance.

Copyright © Ronald Corp, Highgate Choral Society 2008