Clare’s Programme Notes

We are always proud to present our programme notes because of the careful consideration with which they have been researched and written. For this, we can thank Clare Orrell, soprano with Byrd Singers.

We are happy to share them with you here on our blog pages. You are free to use them but please give credit to Clare in your own programmes.

On February 20th 2020 we will be performing John Joubert’s amazing Pro Pacem Motets.

John Joubert by the composer’s grandson, John E. Morris –

John Joubert (1927-2019) was born in Cape Town, South Africa and came to the Royal Academy of Music on a post graduate scholarship to study composition, studying chiefly with Howard Ferguson and Alan Bush.After twelve years at Hull University, he and his family moved to Birmingham when he was appointed Reader in Music at the University. Joubert’s music occupies the ground in the post Britten-Tippett era, where you would find Kenneth Leighton, Thea Musgrave and Malcolm Williamson, rather than the possibly more favoured ‘Manchester School’ of the time which included composers such as Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr. As with many people in the late 1950s, John was concerned with the ‘problem of peace, a pressing problem of our time.’

The Pro Pace Motets are ideally performed as a triptych, though they were written at different times. O Libera Plebem, written in 1955, is a setting of a 9th Century poem by Sedulius Scottus, an Irish priest and poet who wandered across mainland Europe, spending much time in France. Poets of that time were most taken with comets, floods and plagues like the Black Death. Here deliverance is sought from universal destruction.

The second, from 1959, O TristiaSeclaPriora, sets text from Eugenius Vulgarius, the 10th Century Italian priest and poet, lamenting the day man conceived weapons; again, a theme for the time of the ‘Cold War’.

Peter Abelard, the French philosopher and poet, wrote Solus ad Victimam, of Christ’s passion being the triumph of non-violence and to ‘win the laughter of thine Easter Day’. Joubert’s setting (1958) is the most extended of the three motets and, unlike the other two, a sense of hard-won optimism is sustained to the end.

Interestingly texts for all three are found in Helen Waddell’s ‘Medieval Latin Lyrics’. All have a drive and starkness, reflecting on modern times, lived in fear, with the sanctuary of hope in a single person’s self-sacrifice.

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