From the Depths I Cry Out
for SATB vocal ensemble, a cappella (maximum 2 to a part)(2014)
|Commission||Commissioned by Jeffrey Douma and the Yale Choral Artists|
|Premiere||June 20, 2014; New Haven, Connecticut, Church of St. Mary; Yale Choral Artists • Jeffrey Douma, conductor|
From the Depths I Cry Out is inspired by Josquin des Prez’s late 5-voice motet, De Profundis Clamavi. Josquin’s motet is constructed in such a way that three of the 5 voices are locked in a strict canon throughout the piece, while the remaining 2 voices are free. By nature a canon is something of a musical straight-jacket—especially one in which the intervals of imitation are, as in the case of this motet, at the 4th and octave below the cantus part, so that the three voices’ intervals group vertically as a harmonic determinant in our ears. Melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically the music’s trajectory is determined by the interaction of the parts involved in the canon. And yet Josquin was able to achieve a music that seems transcendent, heartrendingly expressive: infinitely flexible in horizontal and vertical realms as well as in rhythm and pacing.
Rather than taking and repurposing one ore more of the surface features of Josquin’s music, I set out to write a piece that responded to the demands of dissonance treatment, rhythmic organization, and most importantly, canonic disposition, in the same way Josquin’s motet does.
While my piece is constructed with great consideration taken to the conventions of 16th century polyphony, it differs from Josquin’s motet in several important ways. I took the text of Psalm 130 and translated it into my own completely secular English. It is based on the same 3-voice canonic premise as Josquin’s but the parts are spaced one bar closer to one another than his. Also, the three adjacent upper parts participate in the canon rather than Josquin’s two upper parts plus the second tenor.
I found that I needed some concluding music after the setting of my translation of Psalm 130. I wanted to engage the lower parts in a canon of their own. So the final section of my motet uses text from Genesis set in a canon in the lower two voices, which runs forward through “dust thou art” and then retrogrades for “and unto dust thou shalt return,” which in my mind responds to the reflexive sense of the text. It ends with all the voices joining together for a final homophonic statement of the text from Genesis.
This piece is about facing the inevitability of death. I wanted to illuminate the close relationship between fear and hope—an intersection where faith is often born out of necessity.
- Hannah Lash