Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum sets lines from the extraordinary 1611 poem of the same name by Aemilia Lanyer (forgotten voice one) and I was excited by this text from the moment I found it. The piece is subtitled ‘An Easter Cantata’ and is intended to deliver the dramatic narrative of the Passion. There are five movements, 'I. Prologue', 'II. Gethsemane', 'III. The Trial', 'IV. The Journey to the Cross' and 'V. Epilogue' that can be performed as a single piece with a duration of approximately twenty minutes or separately within the liturgy. It is scored for choir, chamber choir, solo soprano, organ and optional bell but could be sung by full or chamber choir throughout with a soloist from within the choir.
The thing that most interested me about this text was the telling of the story from a female perspective, particularly the reference to Pilate’s wife (forgotten voice two), who becomes the solo soprano narrator in my interpretation. Pilate's wife merits a whole thirty-seven words in Matthew 27:19, KJV (also published in 1611), 'When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.' In Lanyer's poem this becomes 'O noble Gov'nor make thou yet pause, do not in innocent blood imbrue thy hands, but hear the words of thy most worthy wife who sends to thee to beg her Saviour's life.' These words in 'Movement III. The Trial' are set against the restless crowd singing crucifigerent, 'crucify him'. Other particularly beautiful phrases include, 'They slept in ease whilst Thou in paine did pray; Loe, they in sleepe and Thou in sorrow drown'd', ('Movement II. Gethsemane') and 'The sun grew darke and scorned to give them light, the moon and starres did hide themselves for shame.' ('Movement IV. The Journey to the Cross').
My thanks go to Luminosa for commissioning the piece for their tenth anniversary and to Rebekah Abbott, Artistic Director, Conductor and musical force of nature for all her work in shaping the performance and remaining committed to the piece throughout the past two years. Happy twelfth anniversary Luminosa and I can't wait to hear it!
Score available following premiere from Composers Edition at
Saturday April 2nd 2022, 7.30pm
All Saints Church, Odiham, Hampshire, RG29 1ND
Programme: McDOWALL: Da Vinci Requiem; WILLIS: Salve Deus; VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS: 5 Mystical Songs. Also includes a talk by Cecilia McDowall.
Tickets at https://luminosamusic.com/index.php/box-office/
26/10/2022 01:47:26 pm
Wimbledon Choral will perform this beautiful and touching piece on 5 November 2022, at 7.30 PM in the Cadogan Hall, London.
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Alison Willis is a composer and musician based in the East of England.