for women's choir and ensemble

The music for the Magnificat was composed over a five-day period at the beginning of April 2003. The idea of writing a Magnificat came to me without warning. One day, I found myself mesmerized by the gravity of the first line of text (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”), and found the possibility of my existence reflecting the presence of a divine being, or compromising a tiny piece of a puzzle that could never be seen or understood, alarming. Threatened and astounded by this notion, I attempted to capture my feelings through this work.

Although I am not an incredibly religious person, I have found myself drawn to the texts of the Roman Catholic tradition (particularly in Latin) as a source of inspiration, not only for the beauty of the language, but for the mysterious and evocative qualities it embodies.

The text of the Magnificat, the Canticle of the Virgin Mary, comes from the Gospel of St. Luke (11, 46-55) and refers to the first words of the Latin Vulgate translation: Magnificat anima mea Dominum. Although the text has been set by many composers for both sacred and secular use, the Magnificat has its place in the liturgy at the close of the Vespers.

Musically, the piece presents two opposing forces: the push and pull between tonality (sacred) and atonality (profane), as well as the ambiguous spaces in between. The tonality of the chorus, which begins in d minor, is slowly corrupted by the orchestra, which attempts to defocus the chorus with atonality over the course of the work. The feeling of pushing and pulling is done though varied use of a hexatonic collection {0,1,4,5,7,8} which contains both major and minor triads, a unifying link between the tonal and atonal dimensions. This dialectic, which runs throughout, is not fully realized until the last line of text, when the chorus returns in ‘declamato’ D major, only to sink like a balloon into an atonal abyss.

The music of Magnificat is dedicated to Stefan Tcherepnin, who, about two years ago suggested that I write a piece in d minor, because it was the ‘saddest of all keys’. 

VC — April 2003


Female Chorus
Oboe (doubles English Horn), Clarinet in Bb (doubles Bass Clarinet), Bassoon (doubles Contrabassoon and Washboard). 2 Percussionists: [I. Crotales, Glockenspiel, Chimes, Bell Tree, Suspended Cymbal, Water Gong, Tamtam, 3 Tomtoms, Bass Drum, Cabasa, Guïro, Metal Washboard; II. Vibes, Marimba, Chimes, Almglocken, High Triangle, Auto Coil, Tamtam, Snare Drum, Large Woodblock, 4 Temple Blocks, Small Maraca, Sandpaper Blocks, Guïro, Metal Washboard], Harp (doubles Ratchet), 2 Pianos (both double Metal Music Stand), 2 Viole, 2 Violoncelli, 2 Contrabasses


15 Minutes


23 April 2003
Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble
Steven Brewer – Conductor
Warner Concert Hall — Oberlin, Ohio