Widely admired as a leading choral conductor, Ronald Corp OBE is also a composer for whom the translation of words into the mysterious poetry of sung texts has been a lifelong inspiration.
It is no surprise therefore that although important orchestral and chamber scores feature in his varied list of works, his output is dominated by music for voices. His chosen texts may be Biblical, liturgical or secular, and his response to them covers a range of moods: quietly uplifting in the Three Medieval Carols, light-hearted and joyful in A Christmas Mass, exalted and devotional in the Missa San Marco. But in all that he undertakes, whether writing for young people or adults, amateurs or professionals, his intentions are never less than serious in a way that is characteristic of a significant artist. And this is no less true of his smaller-scale works than of those where the grand canvas offers scope for imagining music of profundity and stress, as in his recent Symphony, or in the cantata for baritone soloist, optional children’s choir, SATB chorus and orchestra, And all the Trumpets Sounded.
Premiered in 1989, recorded for release on the Dutton label, and programmed with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at the composer’s 60th birthday concert at London’s Festival Hall on Saturday 9 July 2011, it takes its title from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and its pedigree from the notable line of English choral works including Arthur Bliss’s Morning Heroes, Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten. Common to all these scores is the poetry of battle; sometimes heroic, but more often declaring anger, pity and elegy in authentic protest at the most brutal aspect of the modern age: the carnage of industrialised total war.
Within that exclusive 20th-century tradition of composerly responses, And all the Trumpets Sounded emphasises the apocalyptical theme of the Last Judgement, registered in the harsh recurring music of the Dies irae so prominent in the score. True, it is tempered by the vision of Christian’s welcome to the celestial city, ‘And all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side’, these words from the last page of The Pilgrim’s Progress suggesting the fanfares with which the work begins and concludes. Yet their flourish is bitter; and neither the pleading Pie Jesu intoned by a chorus of children, nor the pathos of words selected from that ‘doomed generation’ of Great War poets Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Charles Hamilton Sorley and Wilfred Owen, nor even ‘Vigil Strange’ by that first great war poet of modern times, Walt Whitman, can soften their tones of alienation.
For the composer, that outcome at first seemed surprising and contrary to his conscious belief, however much the urge to armed conflict seems an abiding part of our human nature. Yet that is the paradox of a world which so often aspires to an ideal of harmony through the reality of discord. And all the Trumpets Sounded is therefore a contemporary answer to a perennial malaise. It is an apparently immutable condition, and yet one for which the final response, as in Vaughan William’s great cantata, must always be ‘dona nobis pacem’ – a heartfelt cry for peace. Further information at http://www.ronaldcorp.com/
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