Pietà March 2005

by Richard Roddis

Pietà was composed in 2003, written specially for the Richard Roddis Singers' Annual Singing Week, which took place in Holy Week that year. It came in response to another part of their programme, which involved commissioning contemporary dance to go with Domenico Scarlatti's 'Stabat Mater' to be performed in Wirksworth Parish Church. The idea was to write a piece which also used the geography of this ancient church, as the dancers would do.

The starting-point was the opening verse of the Latin Stabat Mater text, which is set for three spatially-separated choirs, and uses the ancient plainsong melody for those words. But, wanting to incorporate some text also in English, Richard cast around and eventually chose a poem called 'Endless Sorrow' by Margot Arthurton. The poem was written during the Bosnian War, and describes a mother grieving at the grave of her son. It seemed an apt choice to combine with Stabat Mater, which describes the grief of the Mother at the foot of the cross; the ancient Latin beside the modern war poem.

Beginning very quietly, the music rotates among the three choirs, before rising to a searing climax involving all voices, which then gives way to the English text, sung by three solo female voices. A final coda brings back music from the opening, as if it has never stopped sounding, and never will - like a mother's grief. At the première in Wirksworth, and at the second performance in Lincoln Cathedral, the solo trio was sung by the three youngest voices (two still in their teens), which gave an added poignancy.

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