At our next Evensong (5pm Saturday 18 June) we’ll be singing the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by contemporary Latvian composer, Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977).
Ešenvalds was commissioned to write this setting for the 750th anniversary of Merton College, Oxford (pictured), which was celebrated in 2014. Merton College has a claim to be the oldest college in Oxford, as it was the first to be provided with statutes. The other contenders are Balliol College and University College, on different criteria. We’ll let them fight it out amongst themselves, but we’re very grateful to Merton and like-minded organisations around the world who invest in sacred choral music, and keep it flourishing with wonderful, fresh additions to the repertoire such as this.
Composer Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962), who as a young chorister grew up steeped in the choral traditions of Canterbury Cathedral, provides the following commentary on this setting:
‘The Merton College Service (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis), from 2013, was commissioned by the college for The Merton Choirbook—an extensive collection of new works to celebrate the college’s 750th anniversary. The work is unusual for a modern setting, being both unaccompanied and in Latin. It is also entirely syllabic and homophonic, and has perhaps something of the Tudor Short Service about it in its simplicity and gentle austerity. In contrast to the chanted declamation of the canticles themselves, the Glorias find a solo voice (whether soprano or alto is unspecified in the score) underpinned by lush sustained chords, before a briefly refulgent Amen resolves onto an ‘ancient’ bare fifth.’
Source: Gabriel Jackson, 2015, program notes, Hyperion https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W16520_68083
Photo by Ozeye – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8228450