Note on the Texts

Corpus is a one-movement composition scored for two mixed chamber choirs and percussion quartet. In this work, two poems separated chronologically by some 800 years, are juxtaposed: Corpse by British author Michael Symmons Roberts and the Dies Irae hymn. Though they are dissimilar in poetic style and form, they share a common thread in that each text contemplates death and the afterlife.

Corpse (2004) is written from the first person point of view of a spirit looking down upon its own dead body ‘splayed on the road’s crown’ and analyzing it in a clinical and detached manner. Senses are heightened and details are presented in sharp relief. There is no hint to the gender or age of the dead body and the spirit no longer remembers any cause that he or she might have died for. It doesn’t seem to matter. The poem ends on an enigmatic note with the soul hearing a soft voice nearby accompanied by the image of a sky full of green storm clouds.

The text of the Dies Irae, attributed to Thomas of Celano, is a 13th century hymn consisting of nineteen stanzas written in trochaic metre. It meditates upon and describes the Day of Judgment, when the last trumpet sounds and Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. The tone is both reverential and full of extraordinarily vivid and terrifying medieval religious imagery. In the last two stanzas the hymn closes with a prayer for mercy and eternal rest.

In addition to the above texts very brief biblical excerpts are included at various points in the piece. Underscoring the opening in the work, in which a narrator recites in a monotone several lines from Corpse, is the phrase Talitha Koum (Mark 5:41), Aramaic for ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ Near the middle of the piece, excerpts in Hebrew from Psalms 27 and 121 are inserted between lines of the ninth verse of the Dies Irae.

Toward the end of the work the setting of both Corpus and the Dies Irae text are concluded at the same time. Following this there is a brief postlude in which the music is of an entirely different character than what came before. The text for this closing section is Ecclesiastes 1:7 in Hebrew:

All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.
To the place where the rivers come from, there they return to flow again.

Corpus was commissioned by Soundstreams Canada Concerts, 2012 Toronto.
Frieder Bernius conducted the Stuttgart Kammerchor and TorQ Percussion Quartet in the

premiere performance at the Carlu, Toronto, March 11, 2012.

Financial support for this work was graciously provided by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

The text of Corpse has been set with the permission of Michael Symmons Roberts, published by Jonathan Cape.

Special thanks to:
Andy Gann, for helping transliterate the biblical texts set in Hebrew.
David Catriel, for his assistance with the pronunciation and accentuation of the Hebrew texts.