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Antony Pitts after Robert Wylkynson: Transiens (25​-​part motet, world première recording)

from BURDEN OF TRUTH by The Song Company

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The Song Company, as Australia’s national vocal ensemble, is able to pursue major projects over a number of years with the same core of virtuosic and versatile performers, drawing on expertise and resources from our musical colleagues around the world. Sometimes that’s brand-new music, sometimes it’s very old indeed. In the case of Transiens, it’s both.

In 2019 we continued a journey exploring original musical manuscript notation with the support of the University of Oxford’s Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, by standing around a central music stand to read from a facsimile of the magnificent Eton Choirbook, compiled in the first few years of the 16th century. The final index-page of the Eton Choirbook manuscript has an extra piece added by Robert Wylkynson who was in charge of the choir at Eton from 1500 to 1515. In his canonic setting of the Apostles’ Creed for 13 voices the names of the Apostles are inscribed above successive phrases, and the nine-note opening chant Jesus autem transiens (which means “But Jesus passing through them”) passes from one voice to another, as each of the twelve Apostles takes up the story of the Creed. Those nine notes build up a harmonic sequence of three chords, each used three times.

Fast forwards from Eton College half a millennium ago to January 2020 and a road trip from Uluru, at the heart of the Australian continent, to Kakadu and the Darwinian coast, during which I was working on a version of Wylkynson’s canon for more-or-less double the vocal forces and lasting more than three times as long. What in Wylkynson’s original fits onto half a page of music has expanded in my version, simply called Transiens, to a seventy-page score with 25 staves to a page. However, almost the entirety* of Transiens is composed using canonic and other contrapuntal devices that derive all their material from that half-page, and so, in that in sense, it is a non-linear fractal interpretation of the original canon.

Transiens is a triptych – that is, in three Parts or sections, like a mediaeval altarpiece such as the van Eyck brothers’ Het Lam Gods – and is scored for 25 voice-parts (six sopranos, six altos, six tenors, six basses, plus a central cantus firmus) with a total duration of almost 25 minutes. In Transiens the 13 voices of the original canon are joined by another 12 voices, making 25 in total (i.e. 1 + 24), and taking inspiration from the scene in the Book of Revelation of 24 elders singing a “new song” around the throne of the Lamb.

The central Part (of the three Parts) is an ethereal arrangement of the original canon, while the outer two Parts focus on the 12 phrases from the Creed (some longer, some shorter) and treat each as a mini-canon by itself, interspersed by echos of the complete original and new superimpositions and reflections of the underlying 9-note theme.

*The only additional material is a direct quotation of the hymn fragment sung by the old man in Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, for which Transiens was written as a companion piece for this recording and live concert performance by The Song Company and partner ensembles.
(A.P.)

lyrics

Jesus autem transiens
[Petrus] Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem celi et terre.
[Andreas] Et in Ihesum Cristum, Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,
[Jacobus] Qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,
[Johannes] passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,
[Thomas] descendit ad inferna, tercia die resurrexit a mortuis,
[Jacobus minor] ascendit ad celos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis,
[Philippus] inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
[Bartolomeus] Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
[Mattheus] sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,
[Simon] remissionem peccatorum,
[Judas Thaddeus] carnis resurrectionem,
[Matthias] et vitam eternam.
Amen.

But Jesus passing through the midst of them...
[Peter] I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
[Andrew] And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord,
[James] Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary,
[John] Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried;
[Thomas] He descended into hell [Hades]; the third day He rose again from the dead;
[James the less] He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
[Philip] From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
[Bartholomew] I believe in the Holy Ghost;
[Matthew] The Holy Catholic Church; The communion of saints;
[Simon] The forgiveness of sins;
[Judas Thaddeus] The resurrection of the body;
[Matthias] And the life everlasting.
Amen.

credits

from BURDEN OF TRUTH, released May 21, 2021
Sopranos Anna Sandström | Amy Moore | Roberta Diamond | Chloe Lankshear | Bonnie de la Hunty | Josie Ryan
Altos Max Riebl | Stephanie Dillon | Janine Harris | Jessica O’Donoghue | Hannah Fraser | Alexandria Siegers
Cantus Firmus Koen van Stade | University Of Western Australia Conservatorium Of Music | The Oriana Chorale | The SongCo Chorale
Tenors Dan Walker | Owen Elsley | Robert Macfarlane | Ethan Taylor | Elias Wilson | Christopher Watson
Basses Nathan Lay | Edward Elias | Thomas Flint | Lucien Fischer | Hayden Barrington | Lincoln Law
Director Antony Pitts

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The Song Company Sydney, Australia

The Song Company belongs to a land whose first peoples have always used songlines and vocal music to pass knowledge and culture from one generation to another. We bring together Australia’s finest voices in innovative performances, commissioning new music, emerging artist development, educational outreach, and collaborative music-making across art forms. ... more

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