The Merton Choirbook is one of the most exciting projects that form part of the College’s 750th anniversary celebrations in 2014. Whilst some works have already been premièred, the choir will sing from the collection throughout 2014, and a number of specific works will receive their premières at significant occasions throughout the year.
In the Merton Choirbook, many of the leading composers of the day are represented. They include Sir Harrison Birtwistle, who has set a text by Sir Geoffrey Hill, Oxford’s Professor of Poetry, James MacMillan, Jonathan Dove and Julian Anderson. Within the collection, there are some interesting groups of pieces. Four female composers, including Judith Weir, have each set one of the Marian Antiphons; seven composers have each written one of the Advent Antiphons, with John Tavener and Cecilia McDowall heading the list. The 'Evening Canticles' appear both in Latin and in English, and a number of anthems suitable for the different seasons of the liturgical calendar make this collection something that we will draw on through the year. The arrival of the new Dobson organ has inspired some of the music, including David Briggs’s Messe Solennelle and Chorale Preludes by John Caldwell and Gabriel Jackson.
Another distinguishing feature of the Choirbook is the inclusion of composers from further afield. Reflecting the popularity of choral music from the Baltic States, Rihards Dubra and Ēriks Ešenvalds have both been commissioned by the College, as has Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, whose setting of Northern Lights has been widely performed. James Lavino, a native American composer, has set Beati quorum via and Richard Pantcheff, currently based in South Africa, has included various African musical influences in his contribution.
As befits an institution at the cutting edge of teaching and research, the Merton Choirbook will be both a reflection of the College’s dynamic role as a nexus for creativity and new thought, and a lasting musical resource.