"Magnificat anima mea Dominum" sang the Virgin Mary, "My soul magnifies the Lord"....
The title of this Cantata is chosen to represent the "soul" of Manchester, which is its Cathedral, so the central point is the Cathedral,dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, St George of England and St Denys of France. Ever since it was built, a life of prayer, intercession, worship and thanksgiving has continued within its walls. It has become the focus of the religious life, and needs, of the city of Manchester.
The opening gentle oboe solo leads us back to the earliest days of the church when - as the words of the chorus remind us - there was only a small township sharing the site above the protective loop of the river Irwell. The days were punctuated by the regular call of the bells summoning the members of the college of priests for whom the church was built: their vow was to praise God "from the rising of the sun to its setting" [a solis ortu usque ad occasum]. Seven times a day they assembled in the choir stalls.
In the next section, the chorus recalls the days when the view from the church was rural and the seasons ordered the agriculture.
The peace of this picture is interrupted by accented brass introducing the tenor soloist, who reminds us of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, which radically changed the environs of the Cathedral. The chorus joins in with visions of blast furnaces, the relentless beat of machinery in the cotton mills and the danger and suffocating dust of the coal mines which even seeped into the miners' ears and caused deafness. The world had become obsessed by commerce and the gentle sounds of nature were replaced by the hard noise of clogs on sett-paved streets.
By 1819, Manchester had begun to grow up the hill from the Cathedral, but even so, there were still fields not very far away. One August day there was a gathering on one such field by St Peter's. The following section evokes the massacre there, dubbed "Peterloo". Under the sabres a child dies.
The phrase with which the tenor introduces that tragedy is reiterated for another: the Second World War; but here the trebles represent the many prayers offered in the Cathedral, both publicly and privately, during that evil time when even the Cathedral itself suffered attack.
An orchestral interlude follows as we wait in hope for victory over evil. The Cathedral again takes the central place, as it was filled with praise and thanksgiving in 1945, with a crescendo of "Magnificat! To the greater glory of God". It was for this that it was built, and for the comfort and consolation of all who still come to pray for peace and hope in the strong calm of its walls.
Forces:Tenor and treble solos, trebles, chorus, semichorus, brass, wind, harp, tubular bells and Lancashire clogs.
A MANCHESTER MAGNIFICAT
(Poem BY AUDREY VAUGHAN - Music BY DAVID W. SOLOMONS
Orchestral realisation by GUY PROTHEROE)
"A moon-mist whispers,
the night-grey grasses,
seeping over Irwell's eddies.
trailing skirts of dew
on setts and stones,
and touching tower and arch,
black against the sky,
reach fingers to the eastern dawn:
A solis ortu usque ad occasum,
laudabile nomen Domini
[From the rising to the setting of the sun,
the praiseworthy name of the Lord]
Seven times a day will I praise thee...
St Denys pray me peace
Sweet Mary pray my soul,
St George thee me defend...
That once was soft-slipper trod,
or pressed by foot unshod;
That summer-soft trees
whispered sunbeams through
to toss, unseen,
the hidden perfumes
from the meadow-sweet upon the breeze;
That folded stone, and thatch;
and circled woodscent smoke,
towards the sky;
or slept; a resting,
and garnered wealth,
beneath the winterwhite;
Or cowered and moaned,
cruel, and yet kind,
in cleansing gales;
and rivers flowing full
in tranquil bubble-frosted salmon-hides.
Lost, beneath hard feet
beneath adulterated bricks,
hard-quarried and unnatural stone,
Squared eye-unkind palaces
of commerce, acquisition;
beneath a black
slime of fumes,
and battered with
a red and pounding blast;
The hum and whine,
the hum, and whine;
and clank and grind,
and clank and grind
and trip and switch
and thunder clang
in drab and dark
and furnace spark;
and sweep, and rush,
cascade all round
round ear coils
and drown sound down.
"I will show wonders in heaven, and on earth blood..." [Joel 2:30]
and death and widows;
and orphan cries;
and blood spilled fresh
on Peter's field,
as August sun
strikes flash and spark
from beating hooves,
and fear's down-dash sabre.
[Boy: "Mother! Ah!"]
"I will show wonders in heaven,
and on earth blood, and fire, and whirling smoke."
Ave Maria; Maria, ora pro nobis;
Saint Mary pray...
Saint Denys - peace, oh! Peace!
Saint George - aid! aid!
Dona eis requiem
"I will show wonders in heaven"
Sing a new song to the Lord - - [Psalm 98]
for He has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
have brought salvation!
Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp,
with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn.
Acclaim the King, the Lord!
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify your name for ever.
And thorned red rose of England cries:
"Magnificat! Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam!"
Oh Sweet Mary, pray my soul;
[© Audrey Vaughan 1986,
Commission Cantata Choir, Manchester]
A separate smaller choral piece based on the Psalm 98 setting included in the Manchester Magnificat can be obtained from
New: Performances from Budapest in 2016
A Manchester Magnificat