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Tremblay: Les Vêpres de la Vierge (Vespers for the Virgin)

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Les Vêpres de la Vierge (Vespers for the Virgin) For mixed choir, solo soprano, three flutes (and piccolo), oboe, English horn, two trumpets, trombone, three percussion instruments, positive organ, and double bass.

Les Vêpres de la Vierge was commissioned to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the founding of the Notre-Dame de Sylvanès Abbey, France, where the work was premièred on July 20, 1986. Those are the circumstances in which was elaborated this composition, destined to be enveloped by architecture of exceptional acoustic quality. The work is dedicated to André Gouzes, Dominican, and to my friends of Sylvanès who, in the footsteps of its architects, make it a living resonance.

In the liturgy of the Hours, Vespers corresponds to dusk. This goes to show the symbolic importance of light (identified with Christ). It has thus been given a prominent place in the music, especially since this consists of Vespers for the Virgin, … a woman clothed with the sun… (Revelation, 12:1).

Most of the texts are in French, save a few, such as the hymn Ave maris stella and two antiphons, which I kept in Latin. Concerning the accentuation, the spoken word served as my guide, with all the flexibility afforded by duration, space, repetition, melisma, and silence, so as to intensify and magnify a word, a syllable, in the manner of the ornamentation of Gregorian neumes. The transcendence of Gregorian chant… by its timeless beauty, it still possesses more than ever its vital force.

In the Vêpres de la Vierge, I endeavoured to articulate this enduring relevance as it had been done throughout history at times when, as in the Renaissance, the stylistic gap was already considerable. I was astonished to discover the harmonious affinity between the Gregorian and modern idioms, and how they complemented each other to a greater extent than the adjunction with the latter of other past idioms that were often too directional in terms of modality. This contact was an exhilarating shock. With it, I discovered not only a kindred and natural coexistence, but also a familiar one, as if born of a long, more or less conscious preparation. Such was the challenge at hand: to quote, embed, comment, illustrate as in an illumination, by an interplay wherein multifarious shades are mutually refreshed, thus uncovering striking common features, each nourishing the other, and from which all backward-looking nostalgia is of course excluded.

This Vespers, which follows the course of the liturgy, is divided into three main parts.

First Part

Prologue: Envol, an Alleluia for solo flute (in seven brief sections: Flourishes; Overabundance I; Trickling I; Overabundance II; Trickling II; Overabundance III; lyrical strain with broad rotations).
Introduction with:
• Gloria comprising two elements: 1) an ample melodic-harmonic drape; 2) two harmonic units engendering reciprocal harmonic colours by way of their respective fifth and seventh natural harmonics, in micro-intervals—the fundamental tones F and B are the same as the abbey’s bells; the phonemes of the Alleluia are developed through repetitions and permutations.
• Festival of Light, with an antiphon-chorale for female voices, some instrumental bursts, and verses sung by male voices.
• Blessing by the celebrant, with Amens exclaimed by voices and instruments.
• The hymn Ave maris stella in Gregorian plainsong, punctuated by the large tam-tam, whose resonance lengthens with each stroke.

Second Part

A series of psalmodies preceded and followed by their Gregorian antiphons, enriched by tropes. During the psalmody: very soft constellations of resonance-durations. The pendulum swing of the verses is punctuated alternately by a tam-tam and a tuned bell. We have, in succession:
Antiphon I: Ave Maria, with instrumental and vocal tropes. Psalm 121
Antiphon I, varied.
Antiphon II: Behold the Handmaiden of the Lord: FIAT, with introduction and tropes. Psalm 126
Antiphon II, varied.
Antiphon III: Benedicta tu, with instrumental tropes and Alleluias. Canticle of Saint Paul (Ephesians 1)
Antiphon III, varied, with developed instrumental Alleluia.

Third Part

Short reading by the celebrant, taken from Saint John’s Book of Revelation. Tumultuous instrumental flash. It is answered by a very soft Alleluia, melded to the resonance.

Brief Response, Another Gregorian Ave Maria, of a lilting, almost popular gait, built on only three notes. I adorned the recurring Dominum tecum with ultra-fast passage-groups, varied each time. Magnificat, which unfolds on three levels: 1. An enormous metallic noise, relating to that passage in the Book of Revelation: “A great wonder”; the universe shudders… the metal is its mineral proxy. 2. A melisma-Magnificat, acting as an antiphon, sung by the solo soprano, whose prophetic joy colors the entire piece. 3.

The actual text of the Gregorian Magnificat, as a meditative casing for Mary’s poem… a text so bound with the boundless that its ineffable meaning is inexhaustible. For my part, I sought to translate its joy so intense, it completely overwhelms us, to the point of drama: its dimension encompasses the reality of creation and the most extraordinary hope.

© Gilles Tremblay
Translation: Jacques-André Houle

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About

Walter Boudreau
AN 2 8788 Beethoven Strauss
AN 2 8788 Beethoven Strauss

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