Sacra conversazione

for Chamber Ensemble with Electronic Sound on Tape

James Primosch

Performing Ensemble: Mixed Ensemble
Duration: 21:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

A painting called a sacra conversazione or 'sacred conversation' depicts a group of saints, sometimes form various time periods, generally with the Virgin and child. When I came across this genre of painting I immediately thought of the title as a splendid metaphor for the interplay of instrumental voices that constitutes chamber music, and the idea of bringing together saints from disparate eras seemed to echo my desire to utilize a wide range of expressive idioms in my music.

The odd-numbered movements of the work are based on pre-existing sacred melodies: the first movement treats a song simply called 'Canon' from the 19th century American shaped-note hymn collection called "Southern Harmony". A Bach chorale, itself a harmonization of an earlier melody by Joachim Magdeburg, is at the core of the third movement; the title could be translated as 'I won't let go of God.' In the last movement the cello sings a Gregorian Advent hymn known in English as 'Dear Maker of the starry Skies.'

The second and fourth movements present a series of virtuoso solos for each member of the ensemble, plus an opening tutti and a closing solo for the tape. Over the course of the two movements, each of the eight short sections is presented three times, with the gradual addition of increasingly dense layers of counterpoint and ornamentation.

Throughout, the electronic sounds on tape serve to amplify and extend the instrumental textures, at times shaping the smallest musical elements, and at other moments offering quasi-orchestral gestures.

"Sacra Conversazione" was composed for the New York New Music Ensemble on a commission from the Fromm Foundation. The electronic sounds were realized in the Presser Electronic Music Studio at the University of Pennsylvania. Robert Black, founder of the New York New Music Ensemble and a distinguished champion of contemporary music both as a conductor and a pianist, died during the composition of this work; I have marked the third movements of Sacra Conversazione 'R.B. in memoriam.'

Scores & Parts

Sacra Conversazione - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Fromm Foundation
Composition Date 1994
Orchestration Vln. Vcl. Fl.(Picc./A.Fl.) Cl.(B.Cl.) Perc. Pno.
Premiere February 28, 1994. New York New Music Ensemble, Merkin Concert Hall, New York, NY.


I. Canon
II. Solos with Variations
III. Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
IV. Solos with Variations
V. Conditor Alme Siderum

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