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SATB Chorus, SATB soloists, Organ, Brass Quintet

Duration – 24:05




Text: Luke 1: 46-55

Premiere: December, 1991, Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale, North Chili, New York, Robert Shewan, conductor

I.      Magnify the Lord – 5:10 (Chorus and full ensemble)

II.    For He Has Regarded the Low Estate of His Handmaiden – 2:15 (Mezzo-soprano and brass)

III.  For Behold, All Generations Shall Call Him Blessed – 4:45 (Soprano solo, choir, brass, organ)

IV.  He Has Shown Strength With His Arm – 1:30 (Baritone solo, organ, trombone)

V.    He Has Scattered the Proud - 2:55 (chorus and full ensemble)

VI.  He Has Filled the Hungry with Good Things - 4:00 (Tenor solo, horn and organ)

VII.         He Has Helped His Servant Israel – 3:30 (Choir and Full Ensemble)

Like most composers, I am a HUGE fan of Bach and grew up listening to his Magnificat. I always wanted to try my hand at the well-known text and this is the result of those efforts. Unlike Bach’s Latin Vulgate version from St. Luke’s gospel, this setting is in English.

The first movement uses themes and harmonies from which much of the material in the later movements is generated. The five-note motif which recurs throughout the work is stated immediately in the beginning in a forte proclamation, “Magnify the Lord.” This initial theme is presented in numerous variants in ABABA form, featuring vigorous rhythms and intensifying momentum where chorus and instruments toss thematic variants back and forth in imitative passages. The B section comprises the second line of text, “My spirit delights…” It is given a more subdued treatment, with contrasting melismatic sections of women’s voices bracketed by the rest of the ensemble. The movement ends with a quiet, simple restatement of the main theme by the solo trumpet.

In the second movement, a modal mezzo-soprano solo accompanied by horn, trombone, tuba and organ emphasize the “low estate” of Mary when she receives the message from God.

The Third opens with a trumpet fanfare and imitative soprano solo (“For behold!...”) accompanied by brass and organ, with choral interjections. One of the most powerful moments of the entire work is the proclamation “Holy is He!” by the full chorus fortissimo.

The fourth movement consists of a baritone recitative underscoring the strength of the Lord. It moves without pause to the fifth movement, an unaccompanied four-voice fugue depicting the “scattering of the proud” with descending chromatic phrases. It continues with a brass interlude and a dynamic, syllabic setting of “He has put down the mighty from their thrones,” followed by a return of the fugal material. Music critic Hermann Trotter of the Buffalo News wrote that this movement is “particularly impressive.”

The sixth movement is a lyrical tenor and French horn duet with organ accompaniment, setting the words “He has filled the hungry with good things.” The middle section, an interplay between the solo horn and singer at the words, “He has exalted those of low degree,” comprises an emotional high point of the work. This movement has been adapted to be sung as a stand-alone solo that can be purchased under vocal works.

The final movement starts with the solo quartet in a contemplative setting of the words “He has helped his servant Israel,” and continues into an a capella choral section on the words “in remembrance of His mercy.” Like Bach’s setting, the Magnificat ends with a triumphant reiteration of the theme of the opening movement.