This work for viola, chorus and percussion was commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus, and was first performed in October 1994 at the Barbican Hall, London by Yuri Bashmet and the London Symphony Chorus conducted by Stephen Westrop.
The remarkable text of the Troparion, written by the great Byzantine poetess-nun Cassiana, was the inspiration of The Myrrh-Bearer. The text informed the architecture of the music. The viola solo represents Mary Magdalen, as the cello solo represented the Mother of God on The Protecting Veil. This is where the resemblance between the two pieces ends.
In The Myrrh-Bearer the Chorus symbolises ‘us’, the ‘sins of the world’, from ‘stylized dictatorships’ to ‘the frivolous inane escapist vanities of the world,’ the to cries of ‘help’ after the cosmic catastrophe, and finally reaching an apocalyptic climax in the words, ‘We have no king by Caesar;’ a downright condemnation of God in the Earthly power.
In a surreal way the Magdalen’s ‘sin’ shines through in the viola music, because she recognises the Godhead, and the endless ‘Kyrie eleison’ chanted by the semi-chorus represents her repentance and whatever is left of a ‘repentant’ world.
The Myrrh-Bearer explores the whole range of the viola, climbing from the depths up to the highest notes, and then falling again at the end, after the Magdalen’s recognition of the Risen Christ – ‘Rabboni.’
The last stroke of the gong in the viola’s final bottom C, gives a deliberately ominous end to the piece.
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