PROGRAMME NOTES

Mark; John – Two Motets

ATB (1963) [SATB version later]

Text: Thomas Blackburn

In 1963 Thomas Blackburn wrote two poems about the saints Mark and John for Dickinson to set to music. They were both teaching at the College of St Mark and St John in Chelsea at the time. Dickinson chose to use the three-part male voice choir used for chapel services at the College.

First performances were conducted by the composer; first BBC Radio 3 broadcast by the King’s Singers on 1 September 1971; later Dickinson made the two motets the basis of extended works: Paraphrase 1 (organ); Paraphrase 2 (piano).

 

1. Mark
The fallen city rides from the dark,
A bell of bronze shakes the people to work

Under the beast who married the hawk
And cleaves to heaven, the Lion of Mark.

The Word made Flesh is the Flesh made Word. 

Mark, scribe of God, sets down the hard 

Labour of God, ensepulchred
In the son of Woman, oh, evil-starred! 

A fisherman who cannot write
To a young man talks at dead of night;
tBait God with words that the fish may bite, 

But hurry, my child, it is getting late!

The stylus quivers; down in the yard
Of the High Priest three times a cock has crowed. 

Over Mark's shoulder, unseen, unheard,
Christ, letter by letter, becomes the Word.

Now Eternity in love with time,
Has a book to breathe in, a proper name, 

Though upside down like a flower from its stem

Peter leaves Rome for Bethlehem;

And a fallen city rides from the dark,
A bell of bronze shakes the people to work 

Under the beast who married the hawk
And cleaves to heaven, the Lion of Mark.

2. John 
John, the martyr, that we may utter 

Your life and dying, our lips unseal,
Till, lost and mortal, we join the angel
Who sang your burning upon this Wheel.

Dumb was your father, as in your mother

You grew and waited for space and time, 

And God, through woman, to make you human, 

Most deeply breathing, took steady aim.

Yet though you are first in 

This world, you are least in 

The kingdom, Johannes,
Since water and spirit
You did not inherit
And it is the twice born, 

God’s children must praise.

text for Peter Dickinson’s Motets continued

Johannes,
Salome, the daughter
Of Judah now asks for your head on a salver,
She asks for the death you, yourself could not utter;

Johannes, I the Kingdom.
John, the martyr, that we may utter
Your life and dying, our lips unseal,

Till, lost and mortal, we join the angel
Who sang your burning upon this Wheel.

© 2008-17 Peter Dickinson

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