Verbum caro factum est (2009)

January 6th, 2017

Verbum caro factum est (2009)

A setting of Christmas Responsory: St John 1:14



fp. 09 May 2010; Temple Church Choir, James Vivian, Temple Church, London, UK. Performed as part of the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music 2010.

Commissioned by Choir & Organ magazine.

A recording of this work is available on Phillip Cooke, Choral Music released on Regent Records, REGCD411 and available to buy here.

Verbum Caro Factum Est (2009) (pdf)



 Some theologians consider the opening verses to the Gospel of John among the most profound doctrinal statements in the Christian scriptures. “In the beginning was the Word…” relates back to the Creation story at the beginning of Genesis, as well as the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) through which all of creation passed. Yet the Gospel verse does not end there; it proceeds to the holy mystery of the Incarnation: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory – glory like the only-begotten of the Father, full of glory and truth.” (John 1:14). That Word, the Gospel writer tells, not only was a motive force in the Creation of the Universe, the same being on human flesh and came to live among us.

The famous text from the “prologue” to John’s Gospel appears only once in its complete form during the Catholic Church’s annual progress through the chanted liturgy, but it comes at a very special moment: the night before Christmas. The Church practices discipline, self-reflection, and penitence for 40 days before the two highest holy days, Easter and Christmas. The 40 days of Advent prepare each individual to receive the coming of the Christ child, which is celebrated on 25 December. In the middle of the night, the long waiting is ended, and a long service of worship celebrates the various stories of the first Christmas; the nocturnal liturgy culminates in the Midnight Mass, which is the complete celebration of the Child’s taking on our flesh. And one of the last chants sung before the Mass begins is Verbum caro factum est.

My setting of Verbum caro factum est takes the atmosphere and sense of anticipation in the Midnight Mass as the basis for a slow, reverential meditation on these profound words. The work is largely homophonic, ebbing and flowing with the rhythm of the text; more animated and strident sections are present, but soon dissolve into the tranquillo e sostenuto material. One major departure from the original text is the use of the macaronic form, where the original Latin words are combined with fragments of the same text in English translation. This way of approaching traditional texts is something that I have used in recent pieces and gives a fresh approach to well known texts. The English translation is only ever sung by two solo altos (which can be placed off stage) which contrast with the main choir who sing the Latin original.


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