COMPOSITION REVIEW: THE COVENANT MOTETS

Choral Journal. Vol. 45 Issue 3

Esteemed American composer, conductor, organist, and choral conductor Daniel Pinkham’s (b. 1923) The Covenant Motets is a six-movement work that draws texts from the Letters of Saint Paul. Commissioned by the Church of the Covenant (Presbyterian) in Cleveland, Ohio, the vivid and stirring sentences are textually driven, rhythmically propelled, and thematically unified. The movements are characterized by frequent and dramatic mood changes that use the various vocal textures, gripping and sudden major chords emerging from chromatic progressions, and dynamics that contrast sharply via terracing and sudden shifts. Moreover, each of the six short movements is conceived in a unique and contrasting flavor.

Texts are printed on the inside cover with instructions for inclusion in the program. Pinkham’s meticulous text setting is evident in this work. Syncopation, triplet figures, and a quasi-recitative feel further augment the speech-like effects created by frequent shifts in meter and carefully placed rests. Although the composer has effectively notated breathing, phrasing, and the overall expressive nature of the texts, there is still opportunity for considerable interpretation.

The Covenant Motets is a homophonic composition, aside from a few bars of imitation in the third movement. Although the organ accompaniment has florid passages requiring advanced skills, it reinforces and duplicates the voices and tempers their difficulty. Vocal ranges are relatively moderate with only a few fairly high pitches in the soprano and tenor lines. Of interest in the fourth movement is Pinkham’s call for a constant forte amidst the dynamic instability of the other movements. The complicated score is large and clearly presented; tempos, rhythms, accents, meter shifts, and special effects all all well-notated, leaving little room for confusion about the composer’s intent.

The multi-movement work is published as a set and is conceived as a compound, with themes of praise, prayer, Christian community, and eternal life, that form a single complete service. Movements could, however, be used individually. The final movement is, for example, an elegant and powerful benediction. Pinkham’s website, which contains biographical information, reviews of recent premieres, and a catalog of his prolific output, suggest this twelve-minute work for advanced adult choruses – college, community, church, professional – and for use in worship, hymn festivals, and concerts.

Jonathon Emmons
Jesse E. Hopkins
Bridgewater, Virginia

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