Nunc Dimittis

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I received my earliest musical training as a boy chorister in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. For four years, I sang in daily matins services and in evensong up to four times a week. I only now, fifteen years later, really understand the impact of the experience. Although the Anglican Catholic religion itself (or any religion, for that matter) has never really excited me, performing in the profound theatre of those services was a religious experience, in the same sense as Mark Rothko’s use of the term to describe both the creation and apprehension of his incredible canvases. There was Gesamtkunstwerk in the confluence of architecture, light, music and ritual.

The Nunc Dimittis is the second canticle sung at an Anglican evensong. I remember singing beautiful settings by Byrd, Wood, Stanford, Blair… I’ve always found the text moving – an old prophet is ready to let go of life, at peace because he has seen mankind’s salvation. It’s such an affirmation: so optimistic and so resolute.

The text, from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, is as follows:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen: thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared: before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

This setting for unaccompanied SATB choir draws on material from an earlier setting for double SATB choir, two Javanese genders, cello and piano. In this sense, and in others, it is part of an ongoing process of distillation.

Subtitle: A canticle for unaccompanied SATB choir
Instrumentation: unaccompanied SATB choir
Duration: circa 5′
Date of composition: 2010
Commissioned by:
First Performance: Resurgam; Mark Duley, director; October 2011, Newport, County Mayo
Score: Please email to obtain the latest score.