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Giles Swayne, Magnificat

the composer speaks

“My Magnificat was written in 1982 in response to a commission from Christ Church, Oxford, whose choir gave the first performance in July 1982 under Francis Grier. Since then it has been performed and recorded by many choirs. It is scored for a cappella voices in eight parts, and sets the Latin text.

At that time I was still reeling from the impact of my belated encounter with African music and the composition (two or three years earlier) of CRY. At the end of 1981 I had spent two months in Southern Senegal and The Gambia, researching and recording music of the Jola people of that region; these recordings are now in the sound archive of the British Library and available to the public. One of the songs I heard during this trip was a work-song called O Lulum which I recorded in a small village called Badem Karantabaa, about thirty miles south-east of the town of Ziguinchor in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. I used the opening call of this song to begin Magnificat; it also returns as a refrain towards the end of the piece. This apart, the music is built up in polyrhythmic layers which owe a great deal to the choral songs of the Ba-Benzele pygmies of the Congo region. – Giles Swayne

Ars Nova Singers recorded this piece on our first CD A Floweret Bright (1993; sadly, currently out of print).

Read more about this extraordinary composer on his website.