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Lancaster, Philip: Into the Tomb

SATB unaccompanied (with divisions)

While the shorter lyric poems of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are well known, the greatest achievement of this visionary poet and artist is undoubtedly his cycle of prophetic books, which are less frequently explored. These long and elusive poems, written, illustrated, and hand-printed by Blake, expound a mythology and vision that is richly complex in its narrative and symbolism.

Into the Tomb takes its text from an unfinished prophetic book of 1807, Vala, or the Four Zoas, the four Zoas being the root of Blake’s symbolic system, representing the four portions of Humanity that were divided at the fall of Ancient Man. In the eighth chapter of this book, the eighth ‘Night’, Blake’s fallen prophet Los, Zoa of creativity and the imagination, witnesses a vision of the Crucifixion of the Lamb of God, who is nailed to the Tree of Mystery. Upon Christ’s death, Los takes the body from the Cross and lays it in a tomb that he had made for himself whilst ‘despairing of life eternal’. Philip Lancaster’s choral lament, for unaccompanied SATB, sets the few lines that recount this moment, and imagines something of the procession, the tenderness, sorrow, and desolation, with which the body was carried to the sepulchre and laid to rest.

The piece lasts about 3½ minutes, and is intended for use on Good Friday, at the Deposition, but it might also be used more widely within Holy Week, liturgically or in concert, and for funerals.

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‘Few motets begin with the direction “Very slow, crotchet=38”. One that does so is Philip Lancaster’s Into the Tomb […]. The 36 measures take more than three minutes to sing, and there is an aching desolation about the dissonant harmonies. The central section, marked “Solemn Processional”, is centred around C minor/F minor, but the beginning and end [of the piece] make their way to and from the note E, producing a nice tonal balance. This piece would make an effective contribution to any Holy Week concert, since the composer has captured the mood of the text so well. […]’

Jeremy Jackman, Choir & Organ Magazine, April 2020.

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