Rejoice in the Lamb

Rejoice in the Lamb

"Rejoice in the Lamb" (Op. 30) is a festival cantata for four soloists, SATB choir, and organ composed by Benjamin Britten in 1943 and based on the poem "Jubilate Agno" by Christopher Smart (1722-1771). The poem, written while Smart was in an insane asylum, is a highly idiosyncratic and ecstatic praise and worship of God by all created being and things, each in its own way. The cantata was commissioned by Rev. Canon Walter Hussey for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration of St Matthew's, Northampton. Canon Hussey was a remarkable patron of the arts whose other commissions included Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" and Gerald Finzi's "Lo, the full, final sacrifice".


"Rejoice in the Lamb" has a duration of about 17 minutes. It is divided into eight sections.

#(Chorus) The piece begins with a slow, mysterious setting of "Rejoice in God, O ye Tongues," and then launches into a fast, vigorous, dance-like section with rapidly changing meters, in which the lines follow the form, "Let Nimrod, the mighty hunter, bind a Leopard to the altar, and consecrate his spear to the Lord." The section closes with a slow, stately setting of "Hallelujah from the heart of God ... and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty."
#Treble/Soprano soloist) "For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey, ... a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God." Britten uses the organ part to depict the cat "wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness."
#(Alto soloist) sings of the mouse, "a creature of great personal valour," and dramatically describes the male mouse defending the female mouse from an attacking cat. Britten selects an organ registration that suggest the sound of mice.
#(Tenor soloist) a slow, gentle praise of flowers: "For the flower glorifies God and the root parries the Adversary; ... For flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ."
#(Chorus) a passage in which Smart describes his mistreatment by "the officers of the peace" because he is mentally ill, comparing himself to Jesus: "For I am in twelve Hardships, but he that was born of a virgin shall deliver me out of all." Philip Brett writes of this section: "At the heart of "Rejoice in the Lamb", framed by a Purcellian prelude and postlude and cheerful choruses and solos, lies a chilling choral recitative rehearsing the theme of oppression that was to boil over in "Peter Grimes", and a spiritual resolution that looks forward to the very different scenario of "The Rape of Lucretia"." [Philip, 4. Return to England, 1942–50.] Britten also alludes to the composer Dmitri Shostakovitch, who was facing censure in the USSR. The DSCH motif (the sequence of notes D, E flat, C and B which spell out the composer's name) appears frequently in the organ part, at first quietly, and later fortissimo against the thunderous chords accompanying "And the watchman strikes me with his staff".
#(Bass soloist) a short recitative in which the letters of the alphabet symbolize different aspects of God. This segues into the next section.
#(Chorus) a "very gay and fast" section about various instruments and "their rhimes" (rhymes): "For the Shawm rhimes are lawn fawn moon boon and the like. . ." This builds to a climax - "For the Trumpet of God is a blessed intelligence" - and then gradually relaxes into an increasingly peaceful section, ending: "For this time is perceptible to man by a remarkable stillness and serenity of soul."
#(Chorus) A reprise of the ending of the first section: " ... from the hand of the artist inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty. Hallelujah."


*Brett, Philip. "Britten, Benjamin", "Grove Music Online", ed. L. Macy (accessed March 12 2007), [] (subscription access).
*Britten, Benjamin. "Rejoice in the Lamb". Op. 30. New York; Boosey and Hawkes, 1943.
*Britten, Benjamin. "Saint Nicolas" (Peter Pears, tenor; Aldeburgh Festival Choir and Orchestra under Britten); "Rejoice in the Lamb" (George Malcolm, organ; The Purcell Singers under Britten). London 425 714-2 (CD)


ee also

*Benjamin Britten
*Christopher Smart
*"Jubilate Agno"
*List of compositions by Benjamin Britten

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