Notes and Editorial Reviews
Back in 1991, I heard Paul McCartney’s first attempt at “serious music”—Liverpool Oratorio—and found it underwhelming. At that time I was immersed in Elgar’s mighty oratorios and found McCartney’s glitzy quasi-pop/quasi-symphonic effort, aided and abetted no doubt by some ultra-fine Brit arrangers, superficial. What in heaven’s name was he doing? He, along with his Beatles colleague, John Lennon, had produced many of the finest pop tunes of the century. I thought “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” an impressive achievement in terms of sheer musical invention and studio-bound record production. So why didn’t he just stay in his own undeniably successful place and leave the creation of “serious music” to certifiably “serious”
In the intervening years, I’ve learned to judge a piece of music by what it is rather than by what I think it ought to be. After hearing his deeply moving Ecce cor meum (“Behold My Heart”) for soprano, chorus, and orchestra, I am thankful that I never reviewed Liverpool Oratorio. I would have been so absurdly off the mark as to be laughable.
Ecce cor meum is a fine effort by a composer of inexhaustible imagination and profound musical instincts. It was commissioned eight years ago by the then president of Magdalen College, Anthony Smith, who desired “a choral piece which could be sung by young people the world over in the same way that Handel’s Messiah is.” McCartney started by composing the music, and, along the way, hoped to find his way toward an appropriate text. While taking part in a concert of John Tavener’s music in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York he stumbled upon a statue underneath which was written “Ecce cor meum,” and that phrase served to catalyze his thoughts. In this work, he reveals his heart—that of one saddened by the death from cancer of his wife Linda in 1998, and that of a musician who steadfastly believes in his art as a force for good—for reconciliation, and, ultimately universal love in a strife-torn world. Here he is in the company of such diverse souls as Albert Schweitzer, Nelson Mandella, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
McCartney is, by his own admission, untrained. He received some piano instruction as a boy, but, apparently, never acquired even the rudimentary mastery of musical notation. He now composes on a synthesizer. This piece came into its final form largely through trial and error. It was given its first performance in November 2001, and McCartney subsequently realized that in order to make it really work, he had to return to the drawing board. That he did, and the results are enshrined on this disc.
After the incantational opening Spiritus, McCartney shows in the following Gratia that his abilities as a tunesmith are working at their highest level. The melody and its harmonization are both exquisite and ripe for traditionally symphonic development, which he provides masterfully in the following sections. That big tune is indeed the heart of the piece, and it recurs in countless and often subtle permutations. There is a lot of quite effective, that is to say, naturally flowing, counterpoint throughout the remainder of what follows. I often find myself in the worlds of Hubert Parry and other late 19th-century Brit choral practitioners (not at all a bad place to be). This music is more in the orb of John Tavener and John Rutter than that of Krzysztof Penderecki. But, in the end, it’s pure McCartney, and that’s, as far as this listener is concerned, fine.
The performance is faultless. The participants are all self-recommending, and the recording is up to EMI’s best standards.
And now for a bit of unsolicited advice: Paul, learn that notation and maybe take a course in solfeggio. I’ve taught those skills to five-year-olds who mastered them in a proverbial blink of an eye. They won’t make you a better composer, but a more efficient one. Haydn, after all, managed to write 104 symphonies in addition to almost 2,000 other works. I believe that there’s far more in you that can be realized more quickly than the eight years it took to bring this splendid piece to fruition.
So there it is, posited from a fan of both Penderecki and the Beatles.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
Works on This Recording
Ecce cor meum by Paul McCartney
Mark Law (Piccolo Trumpet),
Kate Royal (Soprano),
David Theodore (Oboe),
Colm Carey (Organ)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,
Magdalen College Choir Boys Oxford
Period: 20th Century
Length: 56 Minutes 53 Secs.
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London; Tower of London, England
This selection is sung in English and Latin.
Be the first to review this title