Canticum Canticorum

For soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone soli, SATB chorus and orchestra


50 minutes




Commissioned by International Organ Week, Neuremberg, to celebrate its 50th anniversary





Soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone soli, SATB chorus
Instruments: 2 flutes (2nd + alto flute), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd + bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (2nd + double bassoon) 2 horns, 2 trumpets in C, 2 trombones (tenor and bass), *percussion (2 players), timpani, organ, strings
*percussion (2 players); crotales, glockenspiel, very large bass drum, tambourine, small and large suspended cymbals, flexatone, marimba, clashed cymbals, tam-tam, tubular bells


Part 1: Ver
Part 2: Nox
Part 3: In Cubilo Nuptiali


Composer Notes

Programme Notes

Short Note by Roderic Dunnett

This three-part, full-length oratorio is one of Max’s most spectacular vocal and choral works yet. The text, couched in rapturous, scented, orientally-infused Old Testament love poetry from the biblical Song of Solomon or Song of Songs (the spiritual yet tangibly physical mutual adoration of Solomon and his Sulamite bride – often seen a preemptive allegory of Christ’s love for the church), draws from Davies – appropriately – one of his most highly coloured, herbal and aromatic scores to date. While the music for solo voices and chorus may suggest shades of Max’s operas (Sandy’s aria in The Lighthouse, or the redemptive doctor’s music in The Doctor of Myddfai), it’s as lyrically enraptured as his visionary orchestral song-cycle Into the Labyrinth (the tenor takes a lead role here, too, as the rapt male lover). Yet what most impresses is the accumulation of the whole – a fusion of vital duet and quartet writing, melting upper voice solos, rich choral climaxes, plus the entire wealth of Max’s experience poured into producing, not the austere, restrained Classicism of his smaller choral works, but an almost pictorial Romantic outpouring: not just another Job, but Max’s Belshazzar’s Feast. ‘Vulnerasti me’, intones the enraptured tenor: ‘You have wounded me!’ If this glorious, full-blooded, passionate oratorio doesn’t pierce, wound and ravish even the casual listener, nothing will.


First Performance

Friday, 6 July 2001