A Paschal Feast
An Easter choral symphony in four movements for choir, soprano and baritone soloists, a narrator, and orchestra.

Duration: 35'
Difficulty: 4/5

  • New Readings
  • Still Falls the Rain
  • A Better Resurrection
  • He hath abolished the old drouth

Click here to view score.
Voicing/Instrumentation
VOICES

Mixed Chorus
Soprano and Baritone Solos
Narrator

ORCHESTRA

Piccolo (optional)
2 Flutes
2 Oboes (2nd doubling English horn)
2 Clarinets in B
2 Bassoons
Contra Bassoon (optional)

4 Horns in F
3 Trumpets in B
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Bass Trombone
Tuba (optional)

Percussion (2-3 players):
     Timpani
     Bass Drum
     Side Drum
     Tam Tam
     Suspended Cymbals (small, medium, and large)
     Piatti
     Finger Cymbals
     Tambourine
     Gourd Rattle
     Triangle
     Vibes
     Glockenspiel
     Chimes (Tubular Bells)
     Xylophone

Harp
Piano (doubling Celeste)

Strings
Notes
A Paschal Feast is a setting of four poems: "New Readings" and "He hath abolished the old drouth" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Still Falls the Rain" by Dame Edith Sitwell and "A Better Resurrection" by Christina Rosetti. All of these contain images of food or nourishment of some kind. As I pored over these poems at the initial stage of the composition, it occurred to me that the order I had chosen for them had a liturgical quality to it, that the listener traveled on a sort of spiritual journey from praise to the dark night of the soul, through confession and sacramental absolution to praise again. When this liturgical connection became clear to me, I folded scriptural excerpts (as they were gathered in the Easter services of the Book of Common Prayer) into place around the poems, and decided that the biblical passages should be declaimed rather than sung to add to the atmosphere of liturgical worship. Hence the title, A Paschal Feast, for the high and holy feast day of the church.

A Paschal Feast contains several sections of special note. The alleluia that opens the first movement takes the form of a rather somber introit scored almost programmatically to suggest the spacious, incense-filled environment of a great cathedral. By turns, the women and the men enter, as if they were walking down opposite sides of the nave and taking their places in the choir. Each of these sections builds to a climax that spills over into a celebration of staccato brass. Later on in the first movement, the narrator announces the good news, an invitation to feast at God's table. To give the words greater emphasis, I treated them counter-intuitively, instructing the narrator to whisper them over hushed strings and muted horns. After the final word falls, he suddenly shouts "alleluia" and the chorus takes up the praises.

The second movement opens with a moody quartet featuring timpani, suspended cymbals and two solo 'celli, giving way to ghostly, chant-like choral repetitions of the title phrase "still falls the rain." It also features a stylized middle section that incorporates references to Medieval music at a point in the poem where a fragment of an old English text is quoted. The chorus in this section breaks down to six solo singers, three men and three women.

The third movement, on the other hand, requires no singers other than the soprano soloist. The amen that concludes the symphony is a fugue of Handelian propulsion and character, yet it employs a twentieth-century vocabulary.
Text
A Paschal Feast is based on four poems: "New Readings" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Still Falls the Rain" by Dame Edith Sitwell, "A Better Resurrection" by Christina Rosetti, and "He hath abolished the old drouth" also by Hopkins. Enfolding these are quotations from the New Testament, as excerpted from the Easter vigils of the Book of Common Prayer.

I. New Readings

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,
     therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with old leaven,
neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness,
     but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more;
     death hath no more dominion over him.

For in that he died, he died unto sin once;
     but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin,
     but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.


New Readings
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

     Although the letter said
On thistles that men look not grapes to gather,
     I read the story rather
How soldiers platting thorns around CHRIST'S Head
     Grapes grew and drops of wine were shed.

     Though when the sower sowed,
The winged fowls took part, part fell in thorn
     And never turned to corn,
Part found no root upon the flinty road, --
     CHRIST at all hazards fruit hath shewed.

     From wastes of rock He brings
Food for five thousand: on the thorns He shed
     Grains from His drooping Head;
And would not have that legion of winged things
     Bear Him to heaven on easeful wings.


From the Book of Common Prayer:

Christ is risen from the dead,
     and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death,
     by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
     even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.


II. Still Falls the Rain
The Raids, 1940. Night and Dawn
Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964)

Still falls the Rain—
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
In the Potter's Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
     Still falls the Rain
In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us —
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain —
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds, — those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear, —
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh . . . the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain —
Then — O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune —
See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament:

It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree
Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world, — dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar's laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain —
'Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee.'

© Copyright 1942 by Francis Sitwell. Used by permission.


III. A Better Resurrection
Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
     My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
     Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes but dimmed with grief
     No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
     O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
     My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
     And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
     No bud nor greenness can I see;
Yet rise it shall — the sap of Spring;
     O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
     A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
     Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
     Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for him, my King:
     O Jesus, drink of me.


IV. He hath abolished the old drouth
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

He hath abolished the old drouth,
And rivers run where all was dry,
The field is sopp'd with merciful dew.
He hath put a new song in my mouth,
The words are old, the purport new,
And taught my lips to quote this word
That I shall live, I shall not die,
But I shall when the shocks are stored
See the salvation of the Lord.

We meet together, you and I,
Meet in one acre of one land,
And I will turn my looks to you,
And you shall meet me with reply,
We shall be sheaved with one band
In harvest and in garnering,
When heavenly vales so thick shall stand
With corn that they shall laugh and sing.


From the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through the same thy Son Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Commission & Performance History
A Paschal Feast was commissioned by Dr. Douglas R. Peterson, Director of the Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society, for their Silver Anniversary Concert. The first performance was given on March 20, 1988 at the Artemis W. Ham Concert Hall in Las Vegas, Nevada. The soloists were Patricia Dawson and George Skipworth. The narrator was John Parenti. The Southern Nevada Musical Arts Chorus and Orchestra were conducted by the composer, J.A.C. Redford.
Reviews & Responses
“Structurally, the work is well-balanced and strong. . . . Musically, the second movement, “Still Falls the Rain,” was most engaging. . . . The forceful and joyous conclusion of the final movement aptly conveyed a sense of redemption after loss, eliciting an extremely positive audience response.” (Esther H. Weinstein, The Nevadan Today, March 27, 1988)