The UK premiere of John Rutter’s Magnificat was given in Coventry Cathedral, but this was a year after the world premiere, which was in the Carnegie Hall, New York. Indeed, most of Rutter’s larger choral works were written for American choirs.
It is an immediate, tuneful, sunny work, which has the added bonus of being performable by amateurs. Its directness is explained by Rutter himself: he says, ‘In countries such as Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico, feast days of the Virgin are joyous opportunities for people to take to the streets and celebrate with singing, dancing and processions. These images of outdoor celebration were, I think, somewhere in my mind as I wrote, though I was not fully conscious of the fact till afterwards.’* It should be added, that it is highly singable because Rutter happens to write very well for the voice.
His conscious model, however, was J.S.Bach’s Magnificat, specifically the earlier E flat version which has a set of so-called Lauds, or Songs of Praise, which were traditionally inserted amongst the Latin text (these included the popular German hymn, Martin Luther’s Vom Himmel hoch, and the plainsong Virga Jesse floruit). So similarly Rutter has interpolated a setting of the anonymous 15th century English text Of a rose, and he uses the plainsong tune for the Sanctus, which, again, would not normally be part of the Magnificat. (There are other bits of plainsong lurking amongst the orchestra.) Rutter has also dipped into other ‘traditional’ formal ideas, such as in the Doxology, as it was in the beginning. Here he has employed the common practice of making this a repeat of the opening music (as did Bach (Magnificat), Handel (Dixit Dominus), Vivaldi (Gloria) – and many more).
Rutter has made this piece available in a version for full orchestra and also for a smaller ensemble. Stour Singers will be using the latter version, for the simple reason, the smaller orchestra will fit in the church.
*© Collegium Records
If you would like to listen to John Rutter talking about the Magnificat on YouTube, please click on the following: