Nunc Dimittis

For 21 Solo Voices
(2000) 4 minutes

Commissioned by Gonville and Caius College Choir, Cambridge. Premiered by the choir at Fotheringay Church on 6th September 2000 (broadcast live on BBC Radio 3).

Programme note

The Nunc Dimittis (2000) was commissioned by Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge for a service featuring other works by other Caius composers at the time. Scored for 21 solo voices, and premiered by Gonville and Caius College Choir at Fotheringay Church on 6 September 2000 and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, this must be one of the most dramatic settings of the familiar words, most of which are heard at the outset in Soprano 1's beautiful unaccompanied recitative. But at the word "salvation" Soprano 2 takes up the text and at the same time sound cascades down through the other waiting voices. Roused to vocal life, the choir now deconstructs the text, from phrases, through single words, to waves and clouds of repeated single vowels. "Glory be to the Father..." is a rapid rhythmicized fusillade of notes, starting ff; at this point Soprano 1 re-enters on her highest C, stilling the tumult (the other voices suddenly withdraw into unpitched whispering) and concluding the work with ecstatic melismas in its highest register.

© Malcolm MacDonald


Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.



"Soprano Rose Wilson-Haffenden’s stratospheric solo which commences Frances-Hoad’s Nunc Dimittis (2000) for 21 a capella voices is stunning: crystalline, penetrating, mesmerising. Brief this three-minute work may be but there is no shortage of intensity and range: as the accumulating voices cascade, rebound and then retreat, Frances-Hoad’s sensitivity to the text is once again confirmed. The solo soprano’s final, ecstatic high C shines like a starlight into the cosmos." Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Performance history (post-premiere)

5th February 2012 - Gonville and Caius College Choir conducted by Geoffrey Webber at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, UK


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