05 June 2019 - Choral Evensong

Recorded on
Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Anna Semple’s Footsteps in the Sand was commissioned by the Master and Fellows with the generous support of Paul & Joanna Lindsell and Jeremy & Jodie Podger. It received its first performance at this service. It is a setting of the last stanza of Stǔpki po Pyasǔka (Footsteps in the Sand), a poem by Bulgarian poet Vallery Vergilov, who read the full poem at Evensong as part of the piece’s performance.

Anna Semple is a recent graduate of the University of Cambridge.

‘The main idea for Footsteps in the Sand came from an interest in Bulgarian folk music. I read a few articles about traditional singing in Velingrad, a rural area of the country where my family are from, and wanted to bring this diaphonic and embellished style into my own music. To mix this with a more familiar Western tradition, I took motifs from the chant for the feast day of St John the Evangelist to form the basis of the melodic material. The Monteverdi-style trill (rapid reiterations of one note), is something which can be found in a lot of solo Bulgarian singing (тресене – shaking), and links to the fundamental difference in Bulgarian vocal technique. In Bulgaria, traditional singing is normally done by women because of their ability to sing with what Dessi Stefanova of the London Bulgarian Choir calls ‘twang’. This is produced in a similar way to speech, but can be trained in such a way that produces the uniquely resonant sound the Bulgarian women would have used in order to sing outside to bring in the new seasons and during work. I wrote Footsteps in the Sand with this in mind, but didn’t want to aim for an imitation of such a deeply rooted tradition, but instead wanted to unite the strengths of one of the country’s best chapel choirs with elements of what I love about Bulgarian folk singing! The text is existential, but I think also strangely comforting, so I don’t want any of the music to sound overdramatic or over-sung.’

 

Stǔpki po Pyasǔka

Vǔlnite verolomno mi govoryat 
i grǔmoglasno vyatǔnǐt priglasa,
v svirepiya im razkaz nyama khora,
ni bogove. Tam v taǐnstvena sǔglasnost

voda i prǔst i vǔzdukh sa se splavili
i v byasnata im iznachalma radost
materiyata chudotvorno ozhivyala.
Taka ze pǔv pǔt sǔshtestva prolazili,

krile rastvorili, za da gi vdigne vǔzdukhǔt,
kraka razgǔnali da stǔpyat na zemyata
i v razmnozhavashtata im se mnogdyudnost
sred tyakh yavili se mǔzhǔt, zhenata,

v more - leviyatan, v nebe - zhav ptitsa,
po skalni stenopsi - bogave se razhdali,
zhenata i mǔzhǔt, ot razuma si slisani,
zapochnali da slavyat svoyata vazhnost...

No tuk kǔdeto na brega zemyata
v obyatiyata na okeana se raznezhva
vǔlnite mi napomnyat, che sledata
dori chovek da ya ostavi, pak izchezva.

 

Footsteps in the sand

The waves are telling me perfidiously
and the wind joins in with thunder,
in their ferocious narrative there are no people,
no gods. There in mysterious agreement

water and earth and air have merged
and in their furious primordial joy
matter miraculously comes to life.
Thus, for the first time, creatures started creeping out

wings spread to float on air,
legs unfolded to step firmly on the ground
and in their multiplying multiplicity
among them came Man, and Woman,

in the sea - Leviathan, in the sky - a fire bird,
in rock frescoes gods were born,
Woman and Man, baffled by reason,
began to celebrate their own importance ...

But here where the land on the shore
dissolves in the arms of the ocean
the waves remind me that the trail,
even if one leaves it, is brief and then gone.

 

Vallery Vergilov (b.1956)

 

 

 

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Latest release

October 2019

In their first ever album dedicated solely to the Evening Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis), the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge releases Magnificat, a celebration of their daily tradition of Evensong.

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