Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

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Corpus Christi, with Cat and Mouse

For SATB chorus

audio sample: Corpus Christi, with Cat and Mouse
opus number: 160
completion date: 1993
duration: 18 minutes
scoring: Unaccompanied SATB chorus
world premiere: 30 November 1993, Balliol College, Oxford,
The choir of Balliol College, Mark Dawes conductor
commissioner: The Masters and Fellows of Balliol College, Oxford (see Additional information)
publisher: Chester Music
category: Vocal/choral work
text: From Richard Hill's Commonplace Book, a 16th-century manuscript in the Library of Balliol College, Oxford
press quotes:

I can imagine many choral singers finding themselves unable to resist it: it is an entrancingly entertaining piece. It alternates verses from the familiar Corpus Christi carol with some of the weirdly miscellaneous texts that accompany that carol in an early sixteenth-century commonplace book in the library of Balliol College, Oxford, for whose choir the work was written. Passages of carol-like lyrical counterpoint confront riddles, proverbs, obscure recipes (these preceded by portentous vocal fanfares) and hints on arboriculture, which somehow contrive not to undercut the carol but to increase its poignancy and to fuse with it. One both smiles at and is touched by the final conjunction of a vision of the body of Christ and the observation that "it is a sotill mouse that slepith in the catis ere".

Gramophone

programme note: Short Note by Paul Griffiths

Composed for Balliol College, Oxford, this is a substantial showpiece designed for non-professional choirs who can share in the poetry and amusement it finds in picking its way through an early sixteenth-century commonplace book preserved in the college library. The main thread comes from the mysterious Corpus Christi carol, sounding out of a tangle of other notes and jottings: odd little rhymes, mnemonics, an arithmetical puzzle, horticultural advice, recipes, and more than one intervention by the cat and the mouse.

Extended Note by Stephen Pruslin © 1996

Corpus Christi, with Cat and Mouse was written for the Choir of Balliol College, Oxford, and Davies assembled its texts from Richard Hill's Commonplace Book, an early sixteenth-century manuscript in the Balliol library. According to David Clayton Browning's transcript, the 354 items in Hill's notebook comprise 'poems, hymns, puzzles, recipes, prescriptions. proverbs, a French conversation manual, books of etiquette, treatises on horse-breeding, tree-grafting and arithmetic, a chronicle of London, and memoranda of all kinds - general, religious and commercial'. The work is centred on the famous Corpus Christi carol, in a version particular to the Balliol manuscript. Davies adapts the technique used by James Joyce in the 'Cyclops' chapter of Ulysses, where a word or idea in the main narrative (here the carol) is taken as the linchpin for a 'fantastical amplification or excursus' (here selected fragments from the Commonplace Book), triggering off a variety of musical styles. The resultant work, though sophisticated in concept, is direct and vital in expression.

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.
composer’s note: Hill described his notebook as 'a boke of dyneris tales and balettes and dyneris Reconynges'. Its 354 items comprise 'poems, hymns, puzzles, recipes, prescriptions, proverbs, a French conversation manual, books of etiquette, treatises on horse-breeding, tree-grafting and arithmetic, a chronicle of London, and memoranda of all kinds - general, religious and commercial' - thus the introduction to David Clayton Browning's transcript, of which I made much use.

I have centred my work on the famous Corpus Christi carol, in a version particular to this manuscript - in a way that suggests my first encounter with Hill's book in the library at Balliol in October 1992, when I turned the pages quite randomly and allowed my attention to be caught by a passage or a sentence, but always returned to the carol text, with its strangely haunting images. I disciplined my sequence of extracts by adapting the technique employed by James Joyce in the 'Cyclops' chapter of Ulysses, where a word or an idea in the main narrative (here the carol) is taken as a linchpin for a fantastic amplification or excursus (here using sundry proverbs, remedies, etc. from the manuscript). At the end of my work, I have even quoted a fragment in Hill's original code cypher, before presenting the solution. Throughout I have relished the unstandardized and idiosyncratic spellings and turns of phrase of the macaronic texts, and allowed these to trigger off a diversity of musical styles.

The setting is for unaccompanied chorus, SATB.
additional information: Commissioned by the Masters and Fellows of Balliol College, Oxford, to commemorate the centenary of the death of Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol 1870-93.
recording: BBC Singers, Simon Joly conductor
Collins Classics 14632
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