Night Journey - A Cantata
for Baritone, Mixed Chorus & Concert Band
2008/9, rev. 2010. Published by Maecenas Music. Duration 39' approx.
First performance - August 2009, St. Albans Cathedral
Hertfordshire Wind Sinfonia & Hertfordshire County Choir, cond. Mark Eager
Soloist - Timothy Hobman
"Basford's superb handling of his forces...provides us with a substantial secular choral work. His innate ear for colour and sure sense of architecture makes his eclectic collection of texts from a variety of poets including Longfellow, Poe [and] Donne evocative and memorable."
"[The composer's] knack of writing sing-able vocal and instrumental lines combined with his strong sense of harmonic movement engages us throughout from the gentle pastoral opening Prelude to the awesome final climax in the finale, Hymn to Sunrise."
"...a work that is sure to live forever and become a classic in it's own right."
Piccolo, Flutes 1 & 2 - two 1st Flutes doubling Boomwhackers (Ab3/Ab4); one 2nd Flute doubling Boomwhacker (G4)
3 Oboes, 3rd doubling English Horn
E flat Clarinet, Clarinets 1, 2, 3*, Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet (and/or Contra-alto Clarinet)
*two 1st Clarinets doubling Boomwhackers (Bb4 & F4), one 2nd Clarinet doubling Boomwhacker (Eb4), one 3rd doubling Boomwhacker (Bb3)
2 Bassoons, Contrabassoon
Alto Saxophones 1 & 2, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Contrabass Saxophone/Tubax (Subcontrabass Saxophone/Tubax in B flat ad lib.)
4 or 7 Trumpets (Trumpets 5, 6 & 7 are optional)
Bass Trumpet (in C)
Contrabass Trombone (optional)
Timpani (4 drums), doubling Boomwhacker in C3
Percussion (4 players): 4 Bell Plates (C4, Eb4, F4, Bb4), 2 Tuned Gongs (Eb2, Ab3), Glockenspiel, Crotales (2 8ves, with bow), Xylophone, Tubular Bells, Vibraphone (with bow), Marimba, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Tenor Drum, 2 Tom-toms (hi/med.-hi), 2 Tam-tams, 2 Triangles (med./lge), 2 Tambourines, 3 Pairs Cymbals, Suspended Cymbal, Sizzle Cymbal, Cabasa, Sandpaper Blocks, Woodblock(s) [2 ad lib.], Mark Tree, Bell Tree, Cowbell, Bongos, Anvil, Brake Drum, Ratchet, Whip (very large)
Piano, doubling Celesta (or Keyboard)
Harp (or Keyboard)
Organ (ad lib. but strongly encouraged)
Baritone Solo - a light, clear voice is desired
Mixed SATB Chorus
Night Journey represents a passing of time from dusk until sunrise. The text comes from a variety of poets including Longfellow, Poe, Donne, Fletcher and Blake. Rather than setting one substantial poem which has a structured plot to music (as in the cantatas of Elgar for example), the work consists of a much looser narrative made possible through the use of an eclectic collection of texts. The chorus functions as the main protagonist while a baritone solo is used for more intimate and gentler sections.
In writing this multi-movement work I decided to experiment with using different scoring for some movements. This not only makes for a more challenging compositional process (it is often beneficial to impose restrictions for an undertaking of this scale!) but also allows sections of the band to come to the fore in certain parts of the piece. Out of the eight movements, only two involve the full tutti.
The work is divided into three parts. Parts One and Two see the protagonist(s) enter the world of night, concluding in a dream. Part Three provides relief from these experiences as the ‘journey’ culminates in the appearance of the sun in the finale.
1. Prelude: Night Is Come
The main motifs, heard in various guises throughout the work, appear in this movement in quick succession. The most important one is the “night” motif in the woodwind, occurring in the first few bars. The second is a chord progression, while the third idea is a further short melodic fragment. The text that prefaces the Prelude is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Light of Stars:
The night is come, but not too soon;
O fear not in a world like this,
And thou shalt know ere long,
Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong.
2. Choral Recitative: Into The Darkness
The chorus’ brief first entry is accompanied by saxophones, brass, double reeds and low woodwind. The music is brooding and unsettled; the chorus is seemingly nervous about entering the unknown world of night but realises the moon and stars are there for company.
Initially sounding like a lullaby, with a ‘rocking’ motif comprising of a dissonance followed by its resolution, this movement is more sinister than it appears to be. The chorus sings “come, Sleep,” but this is not a gentle night’s rest – the music builds to a forceful climax, with “Come, Sleep” now turning into an angry command. Suddenly the mood changes and the music eerily falls into a slumber.
4. Solo Recitative: A Clear Midnight
A short transitional movement for baritone solo, where the soul is said to be freer at night time, away from the strains of the working day. This leads without a break into movement five.
5. The Dream: Birds of Passage
I decided to completely reinterpret Longfellow’s poem Birds of Passage, and in doing so it became the central movement, in the form of a dream-scherzo. The music is fast and tense, the foundation being a simple three-note repetition. The dream evolves from the hazy visions described at the beginning of the poem, building to the second of the work’s climaxes before subsiding into a coda that includes the unique sound of Boomwhackers (pitched plastic tubes of various lengths) scattered around the band, resulting in an strange and stylised re-working of the movement’s opening material.
6. Intermezzo: Chimes
This instrumental movement is scored for piano, harp, celesta, organ and percussion, with low woodwind in the louder section. The saxophones take the place of the chorus, their lines being a non-vocal “setting” of an excerpt from another Longfellow poem:
Sweet chimes! that in the loneliness of night
Salute the passing hour, and in the dark
And silent chambers of the household mark
The movements of the myriad orbs of light!
…I almost hear them singing in their flight.
The music is ambient and organic, developing the repeated-note idea from movement 5, representing bells of various shapes and sizes heard in the early hours.
7. Solo: Break of Day
The penultimate movement is a rhapsodic, romantic interlude for baritone solo. With dawn about to approach he wishes a loved one not to wake, since he knows his love will have to leave him if she does. The music is gentle and expressive, sometimes using smaller chamber groupings within the band.
8. Hymn to Sunrise
Having survived the night, the finale is a bright fanfare to the coming of day and sunshine. A slower central section (the “Hymn” of the title) builds towards the main climax of the entire piece, when daylight has finally arrived. The brass then plays all of the melodic motifs heard in the first movement, and this leads the work to a triumphant finish.
Directs to VIDEOS page for recordings of each movement.
First ten pages of Score can be viewed online and downloaded at Maecenas' website. Full Score, Set of parts and Vocal Scores can be purchased at Maecenas' website.