Music Composition (David Lancaster)

All Saints Church, York, is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful examples of medieval stained glass in Europe. Particularly dramatic is the so-called ‘Pricke of Conscience’ window – based on a Middle English poem of the same name – which includes fifteen panels, each of which depicts a scene form the last fifteen days of the world. In the first nine panels we witness the physical destruction of the earth, followed by buildings (including All Saints itself) before mankind and all living things are destroyed. This is a simple moralistic tale to persuade sinners to repent; at the top of the window the virtuous are escorted into heaven whilst at the base others are taken by demons into hell.

In my composition Apocalypse I present the text which is drawn from the Pricke of Conscience poem in its original form – and simultaneously in a modern translation – in a setting for unaccompanied chorus with high soprano soloist. The narrative unfolds in chronological progression but the text constantly refers back to earlier events in the sequence to create a sort of montage which grows in density and complexity as the apocalypse becomes apparent, just as the eye might explore the detail of the window at will to create one’s own ‘disaster movie’ complete with flashbacks and premonitions. The central soprano soloist – joined mid-way by two additional voices at either side of the choir – are the leading protagonists in the drama, angels of the apocalypse perhaps, extending the range of the choir both in terms of pitch and space.

This performance took place in February 2016 in Christian’s Church, Copenhagen, given by the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble conducted by Robert Hollingworth.

Visit Youtube for a video of the performance.


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