Marian Antiphons (2012)
mixed choir, piano and miscellaneous instruments

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Marian Antiphons, composed in the summer of 2011, is a cantata for chorus and instruments setting five Latin texts—the “Magnificat” and the “four Marian Antiphons.” These texts have been set by many composers, from Guillaume Dufay to Arvo Pärt. All of the texts sing praise to and ask for intercession from Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. I associate Mary with the Goddess of Hinduism and (female) Bodhisattvas of Buddhism, and to mothers and muses everywhere—the miraculous fertility of imagination and compassion.

The entire piece lasts over an hour, but parts of it can be abstracted for use in concert and chapel. The various movements often allude to older and/or non-Western music, as well as some modern choral music, especially by Webern.

The piece is based on all twenty-nine, four-note harmonies available in the modern 12-equal-steps-per-octave system. The first and last movements present all of these harmonies in a concise, overlapped pattern; the rest of the movements each focus on one (or a group) of these harmonies. In this way, each movement has its own harmonic color, ranging from highly chromatic to diatonic, and all shades in between. Rhythmically, the piece uses temporal procedures abstracted and generalized from Medieval, Arabic, and Indian music, in addition to recent contemporary music.

Performance Notes

Marian Antiphons may be performed as a whole or in parts. Since the composition sets five different Latin texts, movements that set lines from one or more of those texts could be performed without the other movements. (See the pages of texts below.) Movements from the six instrumental Interludia can also be played to form a separate, non-vocal suite.

The chorus should not probably exceed about 50 people, but must have at least three singers on a part. Singers of Baroque choral music are ideal. Some of the movements for chorus might be sung by the soloists. The soloists should have lighter, flexible vocal attributes so that quick ornamentation will be supple, not labored. However, the bass solo in number 8 (“Fecit potentiam”) may have substantial gravity or heft.

Glissandi are continuous, not portamenti.

If necessary, the instruments accompanying the chorus can be substituted by one or more electronic keyboards (played by a second pianist or organist) so as to simulate the percussion, organ, and guitar parts. The handbells, gong, and woodblocks can be performed by members of the chorus if necessary or desired. A portative organ (or keyboard) will suffice if an organ is not available.

Program and Texts