John the Baptist

6 scenes for soli, choir, and organ

based on the Biblical accounts of John the Baptist

Libretto adapted by the composer from:
Gospels of St. Luke and St. John
Vita di Sancto Giovanni Baptista
by Lucrezia Tornabuoni de Medici (1425-1482)

Hymn translations:
Benedictus:  from the Psalms of David, 1767
(Now bless’d be Israel’s LORD and GOD)

Ut queant laxis:  from W. J. Blew, 1852
(O for thy spirit, holy John, to chasten)

Music acknowledgment:
Music for the chorus in scene three (Benedictus)
arranged from Sacred Harmony, ‘Mt. Pleasant’ (1793)

circa 60″ in duration

Premise
The birth, life, and death of the Great Forerunner

Synopsis

Scene 1: Zechariah the priest chances upon Gabriel the archangel at the high altar. Gabriel’s presence and news startles him, and he does not believe what he hears. The angel renders him mute until his son, the child of prophecy, is born.

Scene 2: Elizabeth, now pregnant, comes to accept her condition. Gabriel visits Mary and announces to her that she will bear the Redeemer. Mary, at first skeptical, accepts the angel’s news. She visits Elizabeth and proclaims her joy.

Scene 3: John is born to Elizabeth. His name chosen by Elizabeth is at odds with the community for no one in his family has been so named. Elizabeth insists, and Zechariah, by means of the written word, confirms the child’s name.

Scene 4: John is now a young man who discovers that he is given to solitude and meditation. He leaves his home for the desert and finds peace. His parents, however, begin to search for him. John is found in the wilderness by the servants of his household. Eventually, he resigns himself to return home, but now knowing his high calling.

Scene 5: John’s ministry as the Baptist is in full flower. Jesus, the Christ, comes to him for Baptism. John at first refuses citing that Jesus is greater than himself. But he baptizes the Christ and a voice from heaven confirms the identity of Jesus.

Scene 6: John is a favorite prophet of King Herod who admires and is afraid of him. John confronts Herod for his marriage to Herodias who is his brother’s wife. Herodias is shamed by John’s criticism and seeks to punish him with death. Her scheme involves Herod’s beloved daughter Salome, who will dance at a banquet for the King. Knowing that Herod would reward Salome for her beauty and performance, Herodias instructs her to ask for the head of the Baptist. Herod reluctantly agrees and John is beheaded.

Singing roles

Gabriel, tenor
Zechariah, bass (from the chorus)
Elizabeth, mezzo soprano (from the chorus)
John, baritone (from the chorus)
Mary, soprano (from the chorus)
SATB Chorus

Accompaniments
organ solo

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Performance Notes

This work is intended as a dramatic piece to be performed in a church. Concert hall and festival performances are of course encouraged, however this is ultimately a sacred work and the architectural appointments of a nave and sanctuary will serve to enhance the performance.

There are five solo parts:  Mary, Elizabeth, Gabriel, John, and Zechariah. All of these parts save that of Gabriel, may be drawn from the choir. The part of Gabriel, akin to an evangelist role in a Bach Passion, is a substantial part that is present throughout the work. All of the characters and chorus personnel should be located together in the performance space. Solo parts may come forward from the chorus at the appropriate time at the conductor’s discretion. Alternately, actors (who are not members of the chorus) may perform the roles in tableaux at the center of the stage.

Stage directions with regard to action and props are considered at the conductor’s discretion. Essentially, this work seeks to gather musicians (and actors) around a sacred space to tell the story of John the Baptist. Dramatic considerations are encouraged to deepen the storytelling experience for the audience.

The organ required for this work is preferably a three manual instrument in a grand space. If available, a smaller chancel organ may be used for the accompaniments leaving only the voluntaries to be played at the main organ. The voluntaries serve as points of meditation (or overtures) and are played before the commencement of each scene. The final voluntary at the conclusion of scene 6 may also serve as a retiring processional for the ensemble.

The choral parts may be judiciously doubled by the organ although the preference is that accompaniments are played only where indicated in the score.