Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

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Job

Oratorio for SATB soli, SATB chorus and orchestra

audio sample: Job
opus number: 183
completion date: 1997
duration: 70 minutes
movement titles: Part 1
Prologue in Heaven
The Tests and Job's Responses
First Argument

Part 2
Second Argument

Part 3
Third Argument
The Unnameable
Epilogue
scoring: SATB soli, SATB chorus, flute, alto flute (+piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A (2nd + bass clarinet in Bb), bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, 2 trombones, *percussion (2 players), timpani, strings

*percussion (2 players): marimba, glockenspiel, crotales, bell. clashed cymbals, 2 suspended cymbals (small and large), small bass drum, very large bass drum, side drum, tamtam (with plastic soap dish), bell tree, flexatone, cauca (lion's roar), tambourine, football, rattle, thunder sheet
world premiere: 11 May 1997, Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Valdine Anderson soprano, Linda Maguire mezzo-soprano, Paul Moore tenor, Kevin McMillan baritone, Vancouver Bach Choir, Bruce Pullan chorus master, CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies conductor
commissioner: University of British Columbia with funding provided by David Lemon
dedication: David Lemon and Karen Wilson
publisher: Chester Music
category: Dramatic work
text: Extracts from the book of Job in a poetic translation from the Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell. Extracts selected by David Lemon
programme note: Short Note by David Nice

Like Vaughan Williams in his Job: A Masque for Dancing, Davies was inspired in part by William Blake's 21 engravings for the Book of Job. His oratorio, however, is less dependent on find parallels for Blake's visual details, given the direct poetry in David Lemon's adaptation of the Stephen Mitchell translation from the biblical original, it is hardly surprising that the spotlight should be so much on Job's suffering litany. The baritone has the lion's share of the setting, though the other soloists occasionally reinforce his plea and chorale-like episodes universalize his predicament. Davies frames with work with two seminal plainsong-like passages; there is also plenty of dramatic contrast both within Job's monologues and in the vivid orchestral writing for the smarmy Comforters, the initially shrill God who finally appears out of a dazzling orchestral whirlwind and the animal life he uses to illustrate the wonders of creation to a humbled Job.

Extended Note by David Lemon©

Job - Peter Maxwell Davies

Job was a subject Maxwell Davies had long considered, and the initiative, in 1992, to ask him to write a work based on the ancient poem, only realised the composer's own intention. Job's fierce, brave anger, born of indignation at the injustice of his treatment, and which finally wrests a response from God, is an ideal subject for this composer, with his intuitive and experienced sense of drama, a musical idiom of suppleness and power, and a sometimes fierce and angry spirit of his own.

Maxwell Davies' vocal works consistently turn for subjects toward the injury to the human spirit, by philistinism, commercialism and hypocrisy (Resurrection) unlovingness (Caroline Mathilde), disease (Eight Songs for a Mad King), injustice (The Martyrdom of St. Magnus), and persecution of the unorthodox, particularly out of the goading of religion (Taverner), and toward injury to the Earth itself by exploitation (Black Pentecost), and pollution (The Turn of the Tide). Always however, the objectives of music and drama are paramount; the indignation is always distilled. As the Job-poet uses language, Maxwell Davies uses a musical language, which is often very beautiful, to ask questions rather than offer answers, even when his work arises out of his most passionately held painfully pointed convictions.

In the works without text, Maxwell Davies' music is shot through with melancholy, but the introspection is universalised. It also contains a great humour; by turns witty and ironic or, as in Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, pictorial and affectionate, without being in any sense condescending. His ability to write good tunes, as he will call his basic material, is shown at its most accessible in this popular piece, while its main theme is also subjected to complex development in Sinfonietta Accademica. Job too has its moments of sly humour.

The sheer variety of his musical expression, for all kinds of uses, such as film, dance and even revue, and in the Symphonies, where Maxwell Davies explores form above all other considerations, describes the composer as one who has no pre- conceptions about the kind of work that should or should not be done, providing it will lend itself to ideas that are true to his expressive nature.

The first performance of Job today brings another new work to life, one that uses some of Maxwell Davies' familiar devices, such as the structurally fundamental plainsong-like opening theme, and explores the subjects which recur throughout his artistic life, but one that will have the quality of something totally unexpected, as well as enthralling and even disturbing.

Job - An Oratorio

Maxwell Davies has called Job a comedy, as is Dante's Divine Comedy. Northrop Frye, by the same term described the biblical poem in which Job, after a series of disasters robs him of his wealth, children and health, finally has all restored to him after his challenge to God yields a reply to his complaints, if not an answer to them. Job's trials are dreadful, and his challenge to God implacable, but he never actually curses God to his face, as the Accusing Angel "bets" that he will. Finally he is transformed by the revelation of the Unnamable. Dante's Pilgrim also arrives at a place of understanding that silences questions: "I felt my will and my desire impelled by the Love that moves the sun and other stars."

Yet God's reply to Job seems heartlessly to fail to answer for the cause of the suffering of the righteous, and the unrighteous for that matter; a burning question for both believers and sceptics. In the poem it comes to this: "here is the universe which I made and which I am; a creation whose laws I laid down, and which I cannot break. I am not bound by your understanding of morality and justice." The impact of Job arises out of the uncompromising challenge met by an uncompromising description of the world which the Unnamable created, and in which he is revealed. In relation to the pain that Job has endured, the response will seem unsatisfying if something clear and direct is expected.

The "Lord" of the prologue is, in his banter with the Accusing Angel, a somewhat smaller type of god than the "Unnamable" who eventually appears. Only Job's stoic persistence rouses the Creator of the cosmos, from out of the feudal arbitrator of the prologue who is apparently willing to see his faithful servant bullied by the Accusing Angel; implicitly part of his creation. The court of The Lord vanishes at the tests of Job, never to be referred to again. The whole action has moved inward and upward.

God's growth in stature parallels that of Job, as he evolves from a "servant" and fearing God, to one who sees him in the splendour of his creation. It is these progressions which give the piece its dramatic impulse. The whirlwind in which the Unnamable appears is not a picturesque breeze in which God can be observed making an entrance, but a storm of soul rending intensity. Only a man who has earned the right to see God by having challenged him, even to the point at which he has been accused of blasphemy by the three pious friends, can call up and withstand such an experience.

In the selection of text for the work, most of the prologue and the whole of the epilogue of the poem were excised. The listener can participate in the everyman drama without the narrative elements which work as a vital framework in the book, but would seem too literal, limited, or archaic in a musical work. It is the music which represents the emotional character of Job's experience, from righteous assurance, through pain and loss, to hard-won understanding.

The friends' arguments employ castigation, hectoring and almost hysterical condemnation; the usual course for those who cannot get their point across because they are hedged about by doctrine, and have no compassion or spiritual insight. Even so, their words eloquently, and with often beautiful metaphors, describe familiar arguments for the cause of suffering.

At each round, Job becomes more insistent, and his responses are all the more poignant because he speaks again and again of his pain, and he will not be fobbed off with pious shibboleths. After the first reply, Job turns directly to God ("Remember, life is a breath..."), reminding him that if the creation is destroyed, the creator loses too. In the poem, God intends to punish the friends for their error, but, as in all good comedies, Job, the person most wronged, intercedes, and his forgiveness becomes God's also.

One of the most beautiful passages in the piece comes at the end of the Second Part, when Job recalls his life as a man of worldly wisdom and high position. Following a moment of indignant, reckless bitterness, the passage is suffused with nostalgia and the profound melancholy of the abandoned. It forms a repose from relentless argument, and takes us to a place of contemplation from which will arise the last angry exchange and Job's splendid imprecation, at which point, the Unnamable is finally goaded into appearing. The rounds are progressively shorter and more intense each time so as to carry the listener forward to the point of the climax of the work, when the Unnamable asks his own questions.

The initiative to ask Maxwell Davies to realise this work came not directly from the book, but through William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job, which found final form in a series of twenty-two engravings; the last great work of the visionary writer and artist. In the first picture, Job is shown seated with his family under a huge tree, reading a book of scripture. In the background there is a large church. Musical instruments hang in the boughs of the tree, and doleful sheep lie in the foreground. In the last picture, the book is gone, the church has gone, and the whole family is standing and playing the musical instruments. Even the sheep look alert and cheerful. Blake's Job is a man who endures a rebirth of the spirit when he is made to realise that his construct of goodness is made up of fearfulness, denial, religiosity, and a belief that a favoured life is the just reward for righteousness.

At the opening of Maxwell Davies' work, the feast on earth is clearly parallelled with the concourse of Heaven. That the entire drama is internal, as the composer has said, is made clear from the start; a reflection of Blake's work too. Pictures, music and poetry do not provide didactic answers to philosophical problems, but participate in the work of the imagination to find "the real questions", which are, as Frye remarked, "stages in formulating better questions; answers cheat us out of the right to do this."

The text of Maxwell Davies' Job

My discovery of Stephen Mitchell's remarkable translation of The Book of Job came immediately after initiation of the commission, and Maxwell Davies readily accepted it as the basis for the text of the oratorio. When I asked if, as I assumed, he would make the selection of the text himself, he surprised me by fixing me with one of his kindly but penetrating gazes, and asked if I would do it. Aware of my inexperience and a feeling of unworthiness to the task of taking scissors to one of the great books of the world, I was momentarily reluctant. Even so, I was very excited by the prospect of the work and so, the next moment, encouraged by the confidence in me that the composer implied by his request, gratefully accepted it.

After Stephen Mitchell generously permitted the use of his translation of the work, and more generously still agreed to my taking on the job of selection from it, he helped me immeasurably by commenting on successive drafts. I found the project to be part of a creative and spiritual journey that has enriched my life enormously. Even the most seemingly distant speculations on the nature of a creator and its relationship to the condition of human life and activities seem to me capable of being refracted through this book. If it does not exactly sanctify unbelief, it gives dignity to the rational questioning of the unbeliever as well as the faithful.

That Stephen Mitchell gave me enormously insightful advice on my drafts does not of course imply that he is responsible for the result of the selection and reordering of the text. Through this process and by omission, certain meanings in the poem have been significantly distorted from the poet's intent, but the text is intended to serve as the framework of a music drama, not as an abridgement of a work of literature.

Extended Note II by David Nice©

Whether the Book of Job, with its suffering man's plea for a dialogue with God, should be among the other Old Testament Scriptures at all is a question for theologians and academics only. For creative artists, it has been a fertile source of inspiration; and a measure of its influence is surely the fact that the richest of all those offshoots, William Blake's set of 21 engravings, has in turn inspired others. In 1927, the centenary year of Blake's death, Vaughan Williams was approached to provide the music for a ballet based on eight of the visionary scenes; his own imagination took over and his scenario for what he preferred to call 'a Masque for Dancing', a masterpiece, is full of pertinent observations on the Biblical text, Blake and other great artists. Nearly seventy years later, another composer - who has, incidentally, professed admiration for Vaughan Williams' most rigorous symphonies - accepted a commission from the University of British Columbia School of Music. David Lemon, whose gift made the commission possible and who adapted the text from Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Book of Job, claims the initiative came from Blake; but Sir Peter Maxwell Davies already knew the text itself, and various commentaries on it, too well to follow slavishly Blake's sequence of tableaux.

It is hardly surprising that he should focus so rigorously on Job's words, for which the Book of Job's Prologue in Heaven (written in prose before the central debate flowers into image-rich poetry) is a mere pretext. After all, in the past he has spared us nothing of the thorny dialectics that lead two of his most powerful protagonists - the 16th century composer in his 1972 opera Taverner and the saint in The Martyrdom of St. Magnus - respectively to accept or resist temptation. Perhaps, too, the externals of what can be so horribly visited on an impotent victim have been too well chronicled, with the blackest of humour, in the modern 'inverted morality' of Resurrection (where much of the imagery is drawn from Durer's woodcuts illustrating the Book of the Apocalypse). Although there is contrast in the language of the three 'comforters' who torment Job with the hypocrisy of narrow doctrine, Maxwell Davies has to find his own variety in the curses, pleas and memories of Job himself; and this he partly does by setting the baritone's taxing role in relief against contributions from the other soloists - especially the tenor - and the chorus. Yet the very points at which he deploys them to reflect Job's words provide in themselves a telling commentary. In 1930 the critic Richard Capell wrote of Vaughan Williams' Job that he was 'the one man in the musical world of today with the character, the vision and the strength of style fit to grapple with this drama of heaven and hell'; exactly the same can now be said of Maxwell Davies and his magnificently structured oratorio, first performed in Vancouver in May 1997.

The virtually unaccompanied chorus that begins the work not only goes straight under the skin of Blake's first, happy tableau - Job surrounded by his seven sons and three daughters, an English pastoral scene and musical instruments hanging from the tree above - but also has, in the composer's own words, 'something of the character of plainsong, and contains the musical seeds from which the whole structure grows, and into which it finally dissolves'. A pledge of good faith in the bare essentials of the story follows. How could Maxwell Davies not be fascinated by the presence of Satan in the Book of Job not as one 'dispossess'd, chucked out' of Heaven but there among the company of Heaven? God is shrilly monumental through the medium of chorus, harsh wind and brass; Satan answers him, through a pair of soloists on each occasion, with music of relative dignity.

Maxwell Davies spares us any musical equivalent to Blake's vivid twofold smiting of Job - first the extermination of his children, then the visitation of the hideous disease that makes him an outcast. Instead, highly expressive strings twice develop the opening material after the two scenes in heaven; the second purely orchestral passage reaches rich heights of anguish before sinking to the depths - cellos, basses, two muted trombones, later a lugubrious marimbaphone - as Job embarks on his litany of suffering (in which, of course, he never curses God as the 'Accusing Angel' bets he will). The orchestra splinters into nagging, wheedling fragments, including a violin solo marked 'smarmy', as the three hypocritical comforters come to tell Job that he's been punished for wrongdoing (a claim which the 'innocent' Job of the Bible vigorously resists throughout); they are parcelled out among the four soloists, a fair enough point since Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite and Eliphaz the Temanite share the same imagery for their doctrinaire claptrap. But this is the briefest of interludes within Job's monologue, which Maxwell Davies now enriches first by distant, expressive echoes from the tenor soloist and alto flute, finally by a full choral plaint which seems to universalize Job's situation as in Greek tragedy before retreating ('like a cat toying with a mouse') to leave a single, wan spotlight on Job.

Part Two begins with further characterisation of the 'comforters', their advice reaching fever pitch with a brief bout of very high coloratura for the soprano. Job's plaint this time falls into two distinct sections. In the first, prefaced by a majestic orchestral outburst, the vocal line climbs ever higher in its desperation, putting the baritone under a necessary degree of strain. Then, as Job remembers the days 'when my feet were bathed in cream and oil gushed from the rock', the dark colours of bitter memory yield to a garish orchestral evocation of strutting authority, with brilliant writing for brass. Is the composer implying a degree of hubris in this remembrance of power, however benign? Whatever the case, the climax says it all, a masterstroke expressed in a mere ten bars as the chorus seizes on the four key words of Job's ecstatic reminiscences: 'majesty' - a parody of pomp expressed in a single bar - yielding to 'courage', 'wisdom' (the brass cuts out) and finally 'silence', repeated four times to soft percussion strokes and two solo cellos.

The comforters return to the assault in martial style at the start of Part Three, justifying the composer's belated inclusion of two bizarre instruments in his percussion armoury, the cuaca or 'lion's roar' and the wobbling, wailing flexatone. But their emphatic threat is no more effective, and at last the essential heroism (or foolishness, depending on your reading) of Job's plaint, his wish to speak to God man-to-man, is finally granted (Maxwell Davies dispenses with the intervening discourse of the young Elihu, a possible interpolation in any case). God appears out of a magnificent orchestral whirlwind, worthy of Blake's overwhelming vision-in-miniature at this point, and instead of giving Job an answer asks him to consider the wonders of creation. The shrill Unnamable of Part One becomes a more playful, medieval-mystery-play figure and at last the composer wins a right to vivid pictorialism: shrill oboes for the lioness and her cubs, trilling, hectic brass for the antelope, luminously divided violins and violas for the hawk. There is no need for further evocation of Behemoth or Leviathan, so humorously depicted by Blake, nor for the Book of Job's prose epilogue, in which Job fathers a new brood and lives prosperously, in true Old Testament style, for another 140 years. The oratorio's Job is simply, like Elgar's and Cardinal Newman's Gerontius, dazzled by his glimpse of the infinite and 'comforted that I am dust'. A rich orchestral postlude between the baritone's last utterance and the return to the opening plainsong-like chorus reaches out again to that infinite; but the work's beginning is also its enigmatic end, dying away to nothing. Job has had his vision; that is enough.

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.

Note détaillée en français par David Nice©

Le Livre de Job, ces supplications adressées à Dieu par un homme qui souffre, est-il à sa place dans l'Ancien Testament? C'est une question qui ne se pose que pour les théologiens et les universitaires. Pour les artistes créateurs, il a constitué une source fertile d'inspiration; et une preuve de son influence est que l'une de ses plus riches ramifications, la série de 21 gravures de William Blake, a, à son tour, inspiré d'autres oeuvres. En 1927, année centenaire de la mort de Blake, on proposa à Vaughan Williams d'écrire la musique d'un ballet basé sur huit des scènes visionnaires. Son imagination s'empara du sujet et son scénario pour ce qu'il préféra appeler un 'Masque pour la danse' et qui est un chef d'oeuvre, est rempli d'observations judicieuses au sujet du texte biblique, de Blake et d'autres grands artistes. Près de soixante dix ans plus tard, un autre compositeur - qui a d'ailleurs exprimé son admiration pour les symphonies d'une grande rigueur de Vaughan Williams - acceptait une commande de la Faculté de Musique de l'Université de la Colombie britannique. David Lemon, dont une donation avait permis cette commande et qui a adapté le texte de la traduction du Livre de Job par Stephen Mitchell, affirme que l'initiative revient à Blake; mais Sir Peter Maxwell Davies connaissait déjà trop bien le texte original, et plusieurs commentaires sur ce texte, pour suivre aveuglément la séquence de tableaux de Blake.

Il n'est guère surprenant qu'il se soit concentré avec une telle exactitude sur les paroles de Job, pour lesquelles le Prologue au Ciel (écrit en prose, avant que le débat central ne prenne son essor avec une poésie riche en images) du Livre de Job n'est qu'un simple prétexte. En effet, dans le passé, il ne nous a rien épargné de la dialectique épineuse qui amène deux de ses plus puissants protagonistes - le compositeur du XVIe siècle dans son opéra de 1972, Taverner, et le saint dans The Martyrdom of St Magnus - à respectivement céder ou résister à la tentation. Peut-être aussi, les manifestations extérieures des horreurs qui peuvent être infligées à une victime impuissante ont été trop bien enregistrées, avec un humour des plus noirs, dans la 'moralité invertie' moderne de Resurrection (où une grande partie des images sont tirées des gravures sur bois de Durer illustrant le Livre de l'Apocalypse). Bien que le langage des trois 'consolateurs' qui tourmentent Job avec l'hypocrisie de leur doctrine étroite crée un contraste, Maxwell Davies doit trouver un moyen de varier les malédictions, supplications et évocations de Job lui-même, ce qu'il fait en partie en opposant le rôle très lourd du baryton aux contributions des autres solistes - du ténor en particulier - et du choeur. Mais les passages où il les met en scène pour faire écho aux paroles de Job offrent par eux-mêmes un commentaire révélateur. En 1930, le critique Richard Capell écrivait au sujet du Job de Vaughan Williams que c'était 'le seul homme dans l'univers musical actuel qui ait le caractère, la vision et la force stylistique nécessaires pour se mesurer à ce drame du ciel et de l'enfer'; on peut en dire autant maintenant de Maxwell Davies et de son oratorio magnifiquement structuré, présenté en première audition à Vancouver, en mai 1997.

Le choeur qui ouvre l'oeuvre, presque sans accompagnement, incarne non seulement profondément le premier tableau de bonheur de Blake - Job entouré de ses sept fils et trois filles, scène pastorale anglaise avec des instruments de musique suspendus à l'arbre qui les ombrage - mais présente aussi, pour citer le compositeur, 'un caractère semblable à celui du plain-chant, et renferme les semences musicales à partir desquelles la structure toute entière se développe et dans lesquelles elle finit par se dissoudre'. Suit une promesse de bonne foi dans les éléments essentiels de l'histoire. Comment Maxwell Davies ne serait-il pas fasciné par la présence de Satan dans le Livre de Job, non pas comme un 'déshérité, chassé' du Ciel, mais présent parmi les habitants du Ciel? Dieu est monumental, par la voix perçante du choeur, des vents et cuivres stridents; Satan lui répond, par l'intermédiaire de deux solistes chaque fois, avec une musique relativement digne.

Maxwell Davies nous épargne un équivalent musical de la double et terrible calamité qui frappe Job: d'abord l'extermination de ses enfants, et ensuite l'affreuse maladie qui fait de lui un paria. Au lieu de cela, deux passages expressifs dans les cordes développent les matériaux du début, après les deux scènes au Ciel; le second morceau purement orchestral atteint de riches paroxysmes de douleur avant de descendre dans les profondeurs - violoncelles, contrebasses, deux trombones avec sourdine, puis un lugubre marimba - lorsque Job se lance dans sa litanie de malheurs (dans laquelle, bien sûr, il ne maudit jamais Dieu, comme l'a parié 'l'Ange accusateur'). L'orchestre s'effrite en fragments harcelants, larmoyants, avec un solo de violon portant l'indication 'flagorneur', lorsque les trois consolateurs hypocrites viennent dire à Job qu'il a été puni pour ses méfaits (assertion que l''innocent' Job de la Bible ne cesse de nier vigoureusement), ils sont partagés entre les quatre solistes, ce qui est assez légitime puisque Bildad, le Sçuhite, Tsophar, le Nahamathite et Eliphaz, le Thémanite partagent les mêmes images dans leur boniment doctrinaire. Mais ce n'est qu'un intermède très bref dans le monologue de Job, que Maxwell Davies enrichit d'abord par de lointains échos expressifs du ténor soliste et de la flûte alto, puis enfin par une lamentation de tout le choeur qui semble universaliser la situation de Job comme dans une tragédie grecque avant de se retirer ('comme un chat qui joue avec une souris') pour laisser un seul rayon blême de projecteur sur Job.

La Deuxième Partie commence par une nouvelle caractérisation des 'consolateurs', dont les conseils deviennent de plus en plus fébriles avec un bref accès de colorature par la soprano. Les plaintes de Job, cette fois, se divisent en deux sections distinctes. Dans la première, introduite par un éclat orchestral majestueux, la ligne vocale grimpe encore plus haut dans son désespoir, mettant le baryton à rude épreuve. Puis, lorsque Job se rappelle de l'époque où 'je lavais mes pas dans le beurre et des ruisseaux d'huile découlaient pour moi du rocher', les sombres couleurs de souvenirs amers font place à une évocation orchestrale criarde de l'autorité imposante et une écriture brillante dans les cuivres. Le compositeur suggère-t-il un certain degré d'orgueil dans ces souvenirs d'un pouvoir, même bienveillant? Quoi qu'il en soit, l'apogée dit tout: un coup de maître exprimé en dix mesures seulement alors que le choeur reprend les quatre mots clefs des réminiscences extasiées de Job: 'majesté' - une parodie de l'apparat exprimée en une seule mesure - faisant place au 'courage', à la 'sagesse' (les cuivres se taisent) et finalement au 'silence', répété quatre fois avec de doux accents de percussion et deux violoncelles solos.

Les consolateurs reviennent à l'assaut en style martial au début de la Troisième Partie, justifiant l'inclusion tardive par le compositeur de deux instruments bizarres dans son arsenal de percussion, la cuaca ou 'rugissement de lion' et le flexaton tremblotant et gémissant. Mais leur menace emphatique a perdu son efficacité et enfin, grâce à l'héroïsme fondamental (ou la sottise, selon votre interprétation) des lamentations de Job, son désir de parler avec Dieu d'homme à homme est enfin exaucé (Maxwell Davies élimine le discours intermédiaire du jeune Elihu, qui, d'ailleurs, est peut-être une interpolation). Dieu paraît dans un magnifique ouragan orchestral, digne de l'impressionnante vision-miniature de Blake au même point, et, au lieu de donner une réponse à Job, le prie de considérer les merveilles de la création. L'Innommable à la voix perçante de la Première Partie se transforme en un personnage plus espiègle de mystère médiéval et enfin le compositeur peut donner libre cours à un style vivement imagé: les hautbois criards pour la lionne et ses lionceaux, les trilles mouvementés des cuivres pour l'antilope, les violons et altos lumineusement divisés pour le faucon. Aucune autre évocation de Béhémoth ou du Léviathan, décrits avec tant d'humour par Blake, n'est nécessaire, ni l'épilogue en prose du Livre de Job, dans lequel il engendre une nouvelle famille et vit dans la prospérité, dans le style consacré de l'Ancien Testament, pendant 140 années. Le Job de l'Oratorio est simplement, comme le Gerontius d'Elgar et du Cardinal Newman, ébloui par son aperçu de l'infini et 'réconforté de n'être que poussière'. Un riche postlude orchestral, entre les dernières paroles du baryton et le retour au choeur en plain-chant du début, s'élance de nouveau vers cet infini; mais le commencement de l'oeuvre est aussi sa conclusion énigmatique, s'éteignant peu à peu avant de disparaître. Job a eu sa vision; cela suffit.

Deutsche Anmerkungen (lang) von David Nice©

Ob das Buch Hiob (im Englischen 'Job'), in dem ein leidgeprüfter Mensch um Zwiesprache mit Gott fleht, wirklich ein Buch des Alten Testaments sein sollte oder nicht, ist eine Frage, die Theologen und anderen Gelehrten überlassen bleibt. Für schöpferische Künstler hingegen war das Buch Hiob schon immer eine wunderbare Quelle der Inspiration; sein Einfluß läßt sich zweifellos auch daran ermessen, daß die großartigste Umsetzung dieses Werks, der Satz von 21 Kupferstichen des englischen Dichters, Mystikers und Malers William Blake, wiederum zahlreiche Künstler inspirierte. Zum 100. Todestag Blakes im Jahr 1927 wurde Vaughan Williams gebeten, eine Ballettmusik nach acht von Blakes visionären Hiob-Szenen zu verfassen. Der Komponist ließ seiner Phantasie freien Lauf und schrieb ein Werk, das er 'A Masque for Dancing' (Ein Maskenspiel zum Tanzen) nannte - ein Meisterwerk voll tiefer Einsichten in den biblischen Text, aber auch in das Werk Blakes und anderer großer Künstler. Beinahe siebzig Jahre später übernahm ein weiterer Komponist, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies - der stets große Bewunderung für Vaughan Williams' strengere Sinfonien hegte -, einen Auftrag der Musikschule der Universität von British Columbia. David Lemon, der die Komposition finanziell ermöglichte und den Text von Stephen Mitchells Übersetzung des Buches Hiob selbst adaptierte, behauptete, die Initiative sei von Blake ausgegangen; doch Maxwell Davies kannte den biblischen Text und die Kommentare dazu bereits zu genau, um sich in seinem Werk sklavisch an die Abfolge von Blakes Bildern zu halten.

Es kann nicht überraschen, daß sich der Komponist auf Hiobs eigene Worte konzentrierte, für die der Prolog im Himmel zu Beginn des Buches Hiob eigentlich nur als Vorwand dient (er ist in Prosa geschrieben, ehe das zentrale Gespräch in bilderreicher Poesie wiedergegeben wird). Schließlich hatte Maxwell Davies uns auch bislang nichts von der diffizilen Dialektik erspart, die zwei seiner stärksten Protagonisten dazu führte, der Versuchung zu erliegen beziehungsweise zu widerstehen - den Komponisten Taverner aus dem 16. Jahrhundert in der gleichnamigen Oper von 1972 und den Heiligen in The Martyrdom of St. Magnus. Außerdem hatte Maxwell Davies vielleicht die äußeren Ereignisse, die ein hilfloses Opfer überwältigen können, bereits mit allerschwärzestem Humor in der modernen 'umgekehrten Moralgeschichte' seines Werks Resurrection dargestellt, dessen Bilderwelt zum Großteil auf Dürers Holzstichen zur Apokalypse beruhte. Obwohl die Sprache der drei 'Tröster', die Hiob mit der Heuchelei engstirniger Doktrinen quälen, Kontraste aufweist, mußte der Komponist hier doch eigene Variationen für Hiobs Verfluchungen, Flehen und Erinnerungen finden; dies gelingt ihm unter anderem, indem er die anspruchsvolle Baritonpartie gegenüber den Beiträgen der anderen Solisten - besonders des Tenors - und des Chors abhebt. Aber allein die Stellen, an denen er diesen Kunstgriff als Gegengewicht zu Hiobs Worten einsetzt, bilden einen vielsagenden Kommentar. Der Kritiker Richard Capell schrieb 1930 anläßlich von Vaughan Williams' Job, der Komponist sei 'der einzige Vertreter der zeitgenössischen Musikwelt, der den Charakter, die Vision und die stilistische Kraft besitzt, um sich mit diesem Drama von Himmel und Hölle auseinanderzusetzen.' Genau das kann man heute auch von Maxwell Davies und seinem großartig aufgebauten Oratorium Job behaupten, das im Mai 1997 in Vancouver uraufgeführt wurde.

Der praktisch unbegleitete Chor, mit dem das Werk beginnt, vermittelt nicht nur auf das Wunderbarste Blakes erstes Bild des Glücks - Hiob im Kreise seiner sieben Söhne und drei Töchter, eine ländliche englische Szene, in der Intrumente vom Baum hängen - sondern hat auch, wie der Komponist selbst sagt: '... etwas vom Wesen des gregorianischen Chorals und enthält den musikalischen Keim, aus dem die ganze Struktur erwächst und in die sie sich schlußendlich auflöst.' Zum Zeichen des guten Willens folgt eine Darstellung der wesentlichen Handlung. Natürlich war Maxwell Davies fasziniert von der Gestalt des Satans im Buch Hiob, der nicht als ein Enteigneter und Verstoßener gezeichnet wird, sondern im Kreis der himmlischen Heerscharen. Gott ist hier schrill-monumental durch Chor, rauhe Holz- und Blechbläser dargestellt; Satan antwortet ihm jedesmal mit den Stimmen von zwei gepaaren Solisten und einer relativ würdevollen Musik.

Der Komponist erspart uns jedes musikalische Bild von Blakes anschaulich dargestellter doppelter Prüfung Hiobs: zuerst der Tod seiner Kinder, dann die abscheulichen Geschwüre, die ihn zum Ausgestoßenen werden lassen. Statt dessen entwickeln die Streicher nach den beiden Szenen im Himmel zweimal höchst ausdrucksvoll das einleitende Material; die zweite reine Orchesterpassage steigt zu Höhen der Qual auf, bevor sie in die Tiefe sinkt - mit Celli, Bässen, zwei gedämpften Posaunen und später einem schwermütigen Marimbaphon - und Hiob mit der Litanei seiner Leiden beginnt (in der er Gott entgegen der Voraussage des 'anklagenden Engels' natürlich nie verflucht). Als die drei scheinheiligen Tröster Hiob mitteilen, er werde für böse Taten bestraft (eine Behauptung, die der 'unschuldige' Hiob der Bibel immer wieder zurückweist), zersplittert sich das Orchester in nörgelnde, schmeichelnde Fragmente, darunter ein Violinsolo mit der Bezeichnung 'kriecherisch'. Diese Tröster sind auf die vier Solisten verteilt, was durchaus vertretbar ist, benutzen doch Bildad von Schuach, Zofar von Naama und Elifas von Teman dieselbe Metaphorik für ihre doktrinären Phrasen. Aber dies ist nur ein ganz kurzes Zwischenspiel in Hiobs Monolog, den Maxwell Davies nun ausarbeitet - zuerst durch ferne, ausdrucksstarke Echos des Tenors und der Baßflöte, dann durch den ganzen Chor mit einen Cantus planus, der die Situation Hiobs wie in einer griechischen Tragödie auf eine allgemeingültige Ebene hebt. Schließlich zieht sich der Chor zurück ('wie eine Katze, die mit einer Maus spielt') und wirft nur noch ein einzelnes, mattes Scheinwerferlicht auf Hiob.

Der zweite Teil beginnt mit weiteren Charakterisierungen der Tröster, deren Ratschläge mit einer kurzen, sehr hohen Koloraturpassage des Soprans fiebrige Höhen erreichen. Dieses Mal zerfällt Hiobs Klage in zwei klar abgegrenzte Teile. Im ersten, dem ein majestätischer Ausbruch des Orchesters vorangeht, steigt die Stimme in ihrer Verzweiflung immer höher empor, was natürlich immense Anforderungen an den Bariton stellt. Als dann Hiob der Tage gedenkt, '... als ich meine Tritte wusch in Milch und die Felsen Ölbäche ergossen', weichen die dunklen Farben bitterer Erinnerung einem grellen Orchesterruf voll prahlerischer Autorität und mit viel brillanter Blechmusik. Deutet der Komponist hier ein gewisses Maß an Selbstüberheblichkeit angesichts der einstigen Macht an, sei es auch noch so freundlich gemeint? Wie dem auch sei, der Höhepunkt sagt alles - ein Meisterstreich in nur zehn Takten, in denen der Chor die vier Schlüsselwörter von Hiobs ekstatischen Erinnerungen aufgreift: 'Majestät' - eine Parodie auf Pomp in einem einzigen Takt - weicht dem 'Mut', der 'Weisheit' (das Blech schweigt) und schließlich der 'Stille', viermal wiederholt zu sanften Trommelschlägen und zwei Solo-Celli.

Zu Beginn des dritten Teils erneuern die leidigen Tröster ihren Angriff martialisch und rechtfertigen damit die verspätete Entscheidung des Komponisten, zwei bizarre Instrumente in sein Schlagzeug-Arsenal aufzunehmen: die Cuaca, oder das 'Löwengebrüll', und das klagende, schwankende Flexaton. Aber die schrecklichen Drohungen der Tröster verfehlen weiterhin ihre Wirkung, und der Heroismus (oder die Torheit, je nach Interpretation) von Hiobs Klage - sein Wunsch, als Mensch zu Mensch mit Gott reden zu dürfen -, findet schließlich Erfüllung. (Maxwell Davies verzichtet auf die Reden des jungen Elihu, die wahrscheinlich ohnehin erst später eingefügt wurden.) Gott erscheint inmitten eines großartigen Orchestersturms, ganz im Sinne von Blakes überwältigender Miniaturvision; doch anstatt Hiob zu antworten, fordert Gott ihn auf, die Wunder der Schöpfung zu betrachten. Das grelle 'Unbenennbare' des ersten Teils wird hier zu einer mehr spielerischen Gestalt nach Art der mittelalterlichen Mysterienspiele, und endlich kann der Komponist mit Recht eine lebendige Bildersprache verwenden: schrille Oboen für die Löwin und ihre Jungen, trillerndes, hektisches Blech für die Antilope, strahlend geteilte Violinen und Violen für den Falken. Weder Behemot noch Leviathan, die Blake so humorvoll darstellte, müssen erneut heraufbeschworen werden, und auch der Prosa-Epilog ist überflüssig, in dem der biblische Hiob noch zahlreiche Kinder zeugt und - ganz nach Art des Alten Testaments - in Wohlstand weitere 140 Jahre lebt. Der Hiob dieses Oratoriums ist, wie der Gerontius von Elgar und Kardinal Newman, völlig geblendet von seinem Blick auf das Unendliche und 'zufrieden, Staub zu sein'. Ein üppiges Orchester-Nachspiel zwischen den letzten Worten des Baritons und der Rückkehr zum einleitenden Choralgesang strebt wieder nach der Unendlichkeit; doch der Beginn des Werks ist auch sein enigmatisches Ende, das im Nichts verklingt. Hiob hat seine Vison bekommen, und das genügt.
composer’s note: I have been interested in Job since I was eighteen and at university, initially from the book itself and its unresolvable moral questions. This interest was further stimulated by reading Jung's Answer to Job, and has remained keen ever since. I welcomed the opportunity to investigate the work with abstract music rather than concrete words.

The oratorio Job is scored for four vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra. I framed the work in two passages for almost unaccompanied chorus. This gives it something of the character of plainsong, and contains the musical seeds from which the whole structure grows, and into which it finally dissolves.

The characters involved are not each represented by a particular voice, or by a particular kind of music. I saw the work as an internal drama that occurs inside Job's head. By and large, Job and friends are solo voices and the chorus has God's words, but by no means exclusively - I allowed the text to blossom over all available sources.

Some of the main musical argument occurs in purely orchestral passages - most notable where God appears in the whirlwind in Part 3 and between the last words of Job and the final plainsong-like chorus.

The work progresses with musical matrial in a continuous state of transformation: there are few points of recapitulation where the listener feels on safe and familiar ground. An essential component of the experience, I believe an audience will find Job compelling enough to ready identification despite this relative disorientiation.
recording: CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Vancouver Bach Choir, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies conductor, Valdine Anderson soprano, Linda Maguire mezzo-soprano, Paul Moore tenor, Kevin McMillan baritone
Collins Classics 15162
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