#ChoralMarch, March 19th: “Luminosity: 1. Lux Tenebris”, James Whitbourn

Born in 1963, James Whitbourn is a contemporary choral composer who began his career with the BBC. His “Luminosity” is one of the few choral works composed for dance and fuses predominantly Christian texts with Classical Indian musical instrumentation and idioms. It all combines beautifully, and without any awkwardness.

It opens with “Lux Tenebris”- from St John’s Gospel:

.Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it.


I found some comprehensive programme notes on Luminosity from a 2014 concert in Austin, Texas  in this PDF:

Like Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles performed in Conspirare’s previous program, Luminosity includes aleatoric music (in which performers improvise or choose their own pitches/rhythms/sounds within parameters defined by the composer) and it was conceived to include accompanying movement and light. It employs features of Karnatic (classic Indian) music including the tanpura, a long-necked, plucked lute, which is used in a drone along with the organ and some voices. The violist is encouraged to play “with an awareness of Karnatic style.” The tam-tam (gong), common in Western orchestras, extends the fusion of East and West and provides stunning climaxes when it sounds with the full organ and chorus. As in Lux Aeterna, the seven movements of Luminosity flow together seamlessly.
In his notes to the printed score, Whitbourn writes, “The text, compiled and edited by the composer, centres on the transcendent beauty of creation expressed by luminaries down the ages.” All but one of these luminaries are recognized as saints by at least one branch of the Christian church; their non-Hindu texts combine with the Karnatic-style music to achieve a distinctly ecumenical flavor. John the Apostle is traditionally the author of the fourth Gospel. Ryonen is said to have given up her children and her great physical beauty to gain acceptance as a Buddhist nun. Isaac of Nineveh renounced his ministry as a bishop to become an anchorite (a type of ascetic who chooses to live permanently enclosed in a cell). St. Julian of Norwich, also an anchorite and mystic, experienced a vision that inspired her to write the earliest surviving book by a woman in English. Teresa of Ávila was a mystic of the Counter-Reformation who founded the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites. Augustine of Hippo was a theologian and bishop, considered a major father of the Roman Catholic Church.
Whitbourn writes that Luminosity “… is conceived with a visual counterpoint to the music in mind, coming in the form of art, dance and light as well as in the use of space. The focus in all the elements is on transcendent beauty and eternal love. It is likely to be symbolic, luminous and shapely in concept.”

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