The Isaiah Canticles (Three Canticles for SATB Chorus, divisi, a cappella), completed in June 2005, was the result of a commission from The South Bend Chamber Singers (Nancy Menk, Music Director) in South Bend, Indiana. Like a suite in conception, all of the piece’s three movements are centered on the same pitch, “D.” Each movement is based on a synthetic nine-note mode (D, E, F, F-sharp, G, G-sharp, A, B, C), which is formed by four-note sets derived from the Lydian, Dorian, Aeolian and Ionian modes. A poly-chord (consisting of C major and D major) creates an important harmonic anchor and defines the climax points for all three movements of this nine-minute composition.
The words for all three movements come from the book of Isaiah as found in the 1979 The Book of Common Prayer. The words for movement I, Surely, it is God Who Saves Me, come from Isaiah 12:2-6. Colleague, theologian and friend, Fred Horton, points to a parallel with these words and the spirit of thanksgiving they express to those of Psalm 116. The words for movement II, Seek the Lord, are from Isaiah 55:6-11. A contrasting more reflective text than the previous one, Professor Horton notes that these verses are attempts by the prophet (or group of prophets) known as the Second Isaiah “to apply the teaching of Isaiah of Jerusalem (742-701?BC) to the situation of the Jews in exile in Babylonian (597/586-538 BC).” The text for movement III, Arise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come, is from Isaiah 60:1-3,14c,18-19. According to Dr. Horton, these words are also in the style of the Second Isaiah and emphasize “the cosmic dimensions of the redemption of Jerusalem. Not only will the nations see this redemption, they will be drawn to it.” The Christmas/Epiphany magi story in Matthew’s gospel builds upon the words from this passage.
When composing vocal or choral music, it is of paramount importance to me to seek and unite words and music in a way that makes one seem inseparable from the other. In The Isaiah Canticles it is my hope that I have achieved this quality and have, at the same time, brought about a fresh expression for our time of these ancient Biblical texts.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
I. Surely, it is God Who Saves Me = ca. 2′ 30″
II. Seek the Lord = ca. 4′ 00″
III. Arise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come ca. 2′ 30″
Total duration = ca. 9′ 00″
I. Surely, it is God Who Saves Me (Isaiah 12:2-6)
Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
And he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say,
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples;
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things,
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy,
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
II. Seek the Lord (Isaiah 55:6-11)
Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;
call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,
and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it.
III. Arise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come (Isaiah 60:1-3,11a,14c,18-19)
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land;
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise,
and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open;
by day or night they will never be shut.
They will call you, The City of the Lord,
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Violence will no more be heard in your land,
ruin or destruction within your borders.
You will call your walls, Salvation,
and all your portals, Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day;
by night you will not need the brightness of the moon.
The Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.