College of Music Program Book 2011-2012: Ensemble & Other Performances, Volume 1 Page: 88
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PROGRAM NOTES (cont'd)
Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30 (1943)
Shortly after returning home from a three-year stay in the United States, Benjamin
Britten (1913-1976) received a commission from Reverend Walter Hussey of St.
Matthew's in Northampton (Hussey, a lover of the arts, would go on to commission many
other pieces, including Bernstein's Chichester Psalms in 1965). The result of this 1943
commission was titled by Britten Rejoice in the Lamb, and was a setting of fragments from
the extended poem "Jubilate Agno" by eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart.
Reverend Hussey described Smart as "deeply religious, but with a strange and
unbalanced mind." Indeed, in 1757, Christopher Smart began to suffer from delusions and
was said to 'pray without ceasing.' A 'commission of lunacy' was subsequently taken out
against him and he was placed in an asylum. Little is known about Smart's daily activities
while in the asylum, but during his detention he wrote the majority of both of his most
famous works, "A Song to David" and "Jubilate Agno." Thirty-two pages of the "Jubilate
Agno" still survive. The entire work of over 1200 lines is divided into four fragments,
each fragment consisting entirely of lines beginning either with the word "Let," or the
word "For." While recent scholarship has tried to create an antiphonal structure from
these opposing sections, alternating each "Let" line with a corresponding "For" line from
a different fragment, debate over this issue has not definitively solved the problem of how
Smart might have intended these fragments to be put together.
Britten's setting takes the fragments as they are on the manuscript, with whole
sections of "Let" lines or "For" lines forming the structural guideposts of the piece.
Smart's aphoristic verse includes flashes of genius which Britten captures with equally
inventive musical ideas. From the heterogeneity of the text, Britten creates ten sections
each highlighting the colorful language and reinforcing the poet's driving message - God's
presence may be found in everything: cats, mice, flowers, letters of the alphabet, and even
hardship and oppression.
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