‘Oh mihi, Duncia!’ or A Mob of Metaphors – a service

for Officiant (Bari), Barbershop Quartet (TTBB) and Female Chorus (SSAA)
October 2011; 9′

Commissioned by: William Brooks/The 24.
Premiere: The 24, York Concert Series, 30th November 2011.

‘This poem, as it celebrateth the most grave and ancient of things, Chaos, Night and Dulness, so is it of the most grave and ancient kind…’

Paired with Gesualdo’s madrigal, ‘O vos omnes’, most of this mock-epic for choir sets the last 30 lines of Book IV from Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad (1722, revised 1728/1741).

These 30 lines, which act as an Epilogue to the poem, were divided in direct proportion to the lengths of each Book and the Epilogue. My piece takes this model of five sections as its exact structure, so that in ‘Book I’ only a certain amount of text from the Epilogue is set.

However, more text appears in the first two sections that does not come from the poem, but from the Preface and Prolegomena of the original publications of the text, where the character of Martinus Scriblerus is expounded. He is given the role of OFFICIANT in the piece, interrupting proceedings early on to outline the ARGUMENT of the piece, a formal device taken straight from the Prolegomena.

Concurrent to the literary model, however, is a sacred one: that of a Matins service, which consists of an INTROIT (including a Sentence of Scripture), a set of RESPONSES, a VENITE, a PSALM, a LESSON, a JUBILATE, lastly a HYMN.

This technique was an attempt to compress as much of Pope’s mock-epic into its style, structure, temporal balance and content as was possible, to better mimic the complexity of the source text, so that the satire and subject matter may be best communicated to an audience with an level of understanding or knowledge about the text, including none. Musically speaking, the distance between the practices of contemporary music and Barbershop singing is of sufficient interest to me to want to explore these two musical loves of mine, and share with a perhaps unsuspecting audience the outcome…

Video with score, courtesy of incipitsify: