Robinson McClellan ~ composer
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INVITATION TO A MARRIAGE (2013)
Commission and premiere November 16, 2013
Followup performance November 22, conducted by McGaghie, with choral forces of the University of Hawaii Manoa, Miguel Felipe director.
View Sample Score (PDF) (several pages omitted)
Premiere recording, Macalester Concert Choir
TEXT and PROGRAM NOTE
The Macalester Concert Choir and director Mike McGaghie commissioned this piece for premiere in Fall 2013, both at the college and for performance during church services. I hunted for a text that would be interesting and fun for the fantastic singers in the choir (hopefully with interesting and fun music to match), and that could serve in both sacred and secular contexts. I found the following in The Chemical Wedding, an alchemical book published anonymously in 1616. At the start of the story, the narrator receives a mysterious invitation, written in gold:
Today – today – today
Sponsus et Sponsa [Bridegroom and Bride]
~ trans. Joscelyn Godwin
I loved the text and read all sorts of meanings into it, but I realized that these were quite personal, so I reworked it to bring out those meanings. This is the result:
Soon, soon, soon,
Regard, you King, you Queen,
For this marriage is a clean flame
Marriage, or any close, intense relationship, is a space in which one ultimately won’t get away with dishonesties. If one is not self-aware enough, “true” enough with oneself and one’s partner, then the marriage of two souls can be painful and even dangerous; the interaction with the other inevitably bares inner truths that may be uncomfortable or destructive. But in those dangers there is a fierce beauty, and the possibility of a more direct, meaningful existence. This is why I added the last two lines: embracing the “clean flame” of marriage could ultimately lead to an even deeper, more intense joy.
My first idea for the title was simply Wedding Invitation; I changed it to Invitation to a Marriage to add a little ambiguity: is this an invitation to attend a wedding, or to be married? If the latter, who is asking to marry, and who is being asked… who is the “you” addressed in this text? Is it the queen and king? the gathered company? the hearer of this piece? Perhaps most mysterious of all: who is the person or being speaking to us through this message? What would it be like to encounter that being?
The text suggests religious and spiritual possibilities as well: the risks of not being true might apply in a marriage of the soul with God, or the church as bride with Christ the Bridegroom. There’s also a theme of magic and alchemy, as the source book The Chemical Wedding has connections with mysticism and the Rosicrucian or ‘Rosy Cross’ order, a pre-Christian mystical philosophy.
Some other changes I made from the original: “today” became “soon” to give a sense of excitement and anticipation, and because it sings better. I added “queen” for more balance, and reversed the word order from the usual “king and queen” because musically I wanted a “long-short” vowel pair (queen-king); I also liked the unexpectedness of it. I added the word “magic” because I consider marriage to be a form of interpersonal magic, and that seemed to go with the idea of alchemy. “Mount” became “spire,” for the beauty of the word. “Clean” became “true” to bring out the idea, mentioned above, of being true to oneself and others.