At Cana

Posted on 1st October 2021 by simonbeattie

I’ve blogged before about translating, and then setting, the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. As yesterday was International Translation Day, I thought this week I’d write about another piece of mine, At Cana. This was actually what first brought me to Rilke, when, in 2019, I was looking for a text to set for a composition competition being run by St Paul’s Cathedral. The brief was ‘to write a work based on a text associated with either with the Baptism of Christ or the Wedding at Cana, scored for unaccompanied soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices’ and I took a while looking for a text which inspired me. I can’t remember now how I came across Rilke’s poem ‘Von der Hochzeit zu Kana’ from his sequence Das Marien-Leben but I was immediately struck by the imagery and set about producing my own translation:

That ending. Of course, in translating I also knew that I wanted to create something I could set to music, which is an interesting exercise, and perhaps influenced my choice of certain words, or rhythm. In any event, the piece, when I wrote it, just seemed to flow naturally, although I wasn’t entirely happy with the opening until I decided to quote from the poem itself:

The piece didn’t win the St Paul’s competition, but I was pleased when it was selected for inclusion in the 2020 London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. That year’s Festival, of course, was then postponed, and so the piece still awaits its premiere. However, if you’d like to listen to a MIDI file, whilst perhaps following along with the poem, you can do so on my SoundCloud page:

And if you’d like to see a copy of the score, please do drop me a line. Thanks for listening!

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One response to “At Cana”

  1. Jeff M Konz says:

    Hello Simon–I saw your post on the Choral Evensong Appreciation Facebook group, and was intrigued by this piece. I am a member of a small ensemble (6-8 voices) here in western North Carolina and this looks like something that might be right up our alley; a few years ago, we put on a concert of nothing but settings of poetry. Would you mind sending me a copy of the score? If we do end up using it in performance, I will of course let you know. All best–Jeff Konz

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