MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 12, JUNE 2001  
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Analysis

Unlike the Stravinsky example, which included nine modulations in 46 bars, Tavener's The Lamb does not modulate at all. Since he has started with a good poem, he does not need to write music of great intensity: instead, the musical materials used are very economical. Note the textual contrast of one, two and four voice parts, and how the same texture persists in each phrase. The words are declaimed at the same time, and there is no imitation of the kind we have seen in other choral extracts (Cf: Stravinsky, bar 150ff, Haydn p. 302-304, Bach p. 208-304): this is homophonic rather than polyphonic music.

This is a strophic setting: verses of Blake's text are set as follows:

Verse 1 Syllables Number of Beats Tempo Indications
Little lamb, who made thee? 6 11  
Dost thou know who made thee? 6 11  
Gave thee life and bid thee feed 7 8 [moving forward]
By the stream and o'er the mead 7 8  
Gave thee clothing of delight, 7 8 Poco meno mosso
Softest Clothing, woolly, bright 7 8 Pause after 'bright'
Gave thee such a tender voice 7 8  
Making all the vales rejoice 7 8  
Little lamb, who made thee? 6 11  
Dost thou know who made thee? 6 22 Pause after 'thee'

Tavener has followed the symmetrical structure of Blake's versification, but has allowed more time for the refrain, despite the remainder of the verse having more syllables. He has also doubled the note values for the last line. This is also the case in verse two; Blake appears to have expected two syllables on 'callèd'. Here is the table as a graph:

The language used in this piece is chromatic, rather than based on a particular scale or mode, although each verse does conclude with a cadence in e minor. Because chromatic music is not 'correct' in the way that tonal harmony is, composers need to find ways to make the music sound 'right'. One way is repetition: this music is very repetitive, a feature associated with the Byzantine chant the composer enjoys. However, Tavener has also used a variety of devices, some of which would not be out of place in a serial composition:

Bar What Happens Comments
1 Tune 1 in Soprano (T1 in S) Begins and ends on G. Diatonic.
2 T1 in S
Mirror image of T1 in Alto, refracted about G
 
3 T2 in S T2 (G B A F sharp, E flat, F, A flat) grows out of T1 (G B A F sharp G)
4 Retrograde of T2 in S (T2R) Retrograde=a statement with note order reversed
5 T2 in S
Mirror image of T2 in A
 
6 T2R in S
Mirror image of T2R in A
 

Bars 7-10 add a harmonic framework to T1:

Bar What Happens Comments
7-10 T1 in S
T1 a third down in A
T1 harmonised by Bass
Harmony filled in by Tenor
There is a strong 9-8 suspension on 'such a' (bar 7), but you may think that the parallel fifths on 'tender' sound weaker.

Verse two uses exactly the same material but adds octave doublings to fill out the whole texture. The performance direction 'A tempo – moving forward' at the start of verse two may reflect the fact that there are six consecutive statements of T1 from bar 7-12.

Tavener is sensitive to Blake's versification and has made a sophisticated use of both diatonic and quasi-serial techniques. Like much Minimalist music, there is very little musical material: almost all the music in the New Anthology of Music is less rigorously derived from the same tune. This is a charming miniature, but pales in comparison to some of the masterpieces of sacred church music, such as the Stravinsky and Bach examples.


Jack Day  


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