Instrumentation or Chorus: SSAATTBB and organ
Difficulty: University, Cathedral Choir
Duration: 12’00” (7’30” and 4’30”)
Text: Traditional vespers/compline, from KJV
Language: English (with Latin solos)
Premiered at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, Evening Canticles in C (2012) was commissioned by Dr. Angie Batey for the University of Tennessee Chamber Singers. This set of canticles was later used as part of a Choral Evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral in 2015.
The Evening Canticles in English are a staple of the Anglican Choral Evensong service, each canticle sung after the Scripture readings of the day. The first canticle is the Magnificat (song of the Virgin Mary, Luke 1:46-55), the text coming from the Virgin’s song of praise after she discovers she is impregnated with the Messiah. While most Magnificats possess a joyous demeanor, however, this setting takes a more calm, mysterious approach, emphasizing the quiet struggle to understand a virgin pregnancy of God’s child and all that it implies.
The second canticle is the Nunc dimittis (Song of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32), which is sung by a man who is promised that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. This text is often incorporated into evening prayers across denominations to be said before falling asleep. In its original context, however, we must remember that this is a man praying for permission to die now that his life has been fulfilled.
Because this set of canticles was premiered in Ireland—a country well known for its tension between Catholicism and Protestantism—the work also contains adaptations of the opening Latin chants for each canticle as solos embedded in the moments. This serves as a reminder of the Evensong’s roots in the Catholic Vespers and Compline services.