Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)

Benedictus (1970)

for orchestra

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1970
    • Duration: 17 mn
    • Publisher: Novello
    • Commission: the BBC and the Bristol Corporation for the Bristol Proms
Detailed formation
  • 3 flutes (also 1 piccolo, 1 alto flute), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets (also 1 Eb clarinet, 1 bass clarinet), soprano saxophone, 3 bassoons (also 1 fagott), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 percussionists, piano, electric organ, 12 music boxes, 12 violins, 10 second violins, 8 violas, 7 cellos, 5 double basses [nombre de cordes minimum]

Premiere information

Program note

Benedictus is an orchestral expansion of a small piece for soprano and four instruments called In Memoriam which sets the lines: "Blessed be He who builds Heaven in Darkness! Blessed be Death on us all!" These lines are taken from Allen Ginsberg's poem on the death of his mother, Kaddish. There are many bell-like sounds in Benedictus — a train of thought started off by an idea of Mahler's in which he said the cowbells in his Sixth Symphony represented the last sounds of life audible in the ascent to the top of a mountain — sounds heard as of from another, purer, world. Formally, the work may be described as the exposition and recapitulation of a 10-note set, with thorough segmentations of its pitch and rhythm forming the long development in the middle. After the first section, there is a steady rise of pitch which becomes, after two "interludes", a single fast line weaving through the slow string continuation of the music before the interludes. The work was composed in 1970 whilst at Princeton University.

Jonathan Harvey, éditions Chester Novello.