It is a pleasure to review this splendid work. Gerard Victory was born in
Dublin at Chritmas in 1921. Although he had lessons from A. J. Potter, John
F. Larchett and Alan Rawsthorne he was largely self-taught. Throughout his
comparatively short life (he died in 1995) he received numerous awards for
several compositions which are noted for their originality and effortless
flow. Even his light music is of superior quality. He wrote four symphonies
and Eblana, a history of Dublin, and this massive Ultima Rerum which
is in ten movements.
Ultima Rerum is a global symphony. It is not an eclectic work
since throughout all his work Gerrys very individual style is evident
whatever material he uses. In many conversations with the composer, he made
it clear that this was not a religious work as such but a humanitarian one.
While he hoped that religious thought could unite the world, his view was
that honesty, morality and simple kindness in all things was the remedy.
He passionately believed in the equality of all men of whatever culture.
He was a thoroughly likeable and good man.
The Kyrie is not tonal but based on a twelve note row F Bb A G# F# E D Eb
B C C# B. The contralto, the excellent Bernadette Greevy, sings a telling
line over exquisite instrumental colour. The entrance of the choir leads
rapidly to a stunning climax and we know that we are in for one
of those rare and unequalled music experiences. The joy of Gerrys music
is that it is never crude or out of control but reasoned and expertly crafted.
There is some stirring music here along with an earthy beauty. The baritone
(Alan Opie) introduces an excerpt from Lames Elroy Fleckers
Hassan. The vocal lines are clear, unaffected by any vocal technique.
The orchestration is exquisite. The doomed lovers, the soprano (Virginia
Kerr) and tenor (Adrian Thomson), have some impassioned music. It is almost
too beautiful; the choral writing is often ethereal. This is very special
music indeed. The return of the Kyrie is very well judged.
The Canzone funebre is for tenor, male chorus and orchestra and is
taken from the writings of Leopardi. Again, the vocal line is highly melodic.
It is introspective lamenting the absurdity of death which makes life somewhat
meaningless. The entry of the male choir is profoundly moving and Victorys
highly original harmonies are both a joy and exceptionally beautiful.
I suppose every Dies irae is compared to Verdis. This setting
is splendidly realised and has a tremendous impact without being pompous
or self-indulgent. Again the music is not tonal but returns to the tone row
of the Kyrie. There is a spine-chilling exchange between the tenor
and bass soloists and there is an electrifying tension. Simply stunning.
The inclusion of sections from William Blakes Vision of the Last
Judgement reintroduces the futility and despair of life. The quieter
sections are of a cold, serene beauty. The opening Dies irae returns
heralded by a clever medieval technique and with the anguished cries of the
The De Profundis leads us out of the dark into the radiant light.
It is pastoral in mood and set for mezzo-soprano, small choir and orchestra.
It teems with melody and lovely pastel colours in that strange beauty which
is a hallmark of Victorys originality.
The Offertorium has many interesting features including mediaeval
polyphony, the Lydian scale, the fascinating rhythm of Navajo chant, the
childrens choir who sing from the Koran, fanfares, a fugato and a
triumphant climax. The use of all these texts and the employment of all ages
of people to sing makes this world symphony unique. Mahlers Eighth
Symphony is the nearest comparison but does not encompass all creeds
and cultures as this masterpiece does. The Dominie Jesus Christie
refrain complete with the mighty tones of the organ is very exciting.
The sixth movement, Carizone a sè Stesso is a solo for
mezzo-soprano and uses a text by Leopardi. It is particularly beautiful as
is the Lydian melody played on the saxophone who is as lonely as the song.
Some of the melismata is extraordinarily fine as are the shifting harmonies.
The Sanctus follows and includes Tennysons Ring Out Wild
Bells in the tenor part which recalls Victorys splendid Chamber
Music from James Joyce. The tenor here is at his best with a clear lyrical
tone and his vocal line is very taxing. I can tell you that several tenors
turned down this part because of its difficulty. Tension builds up and after
a tranquil section, a violent climax leads to an elegiac conclusion.
In Paradisum is set for unaccompanied choir following a short orchestral
introduction. It is largely a reflective piece with those original Victory
harmonies and is exquisitely sung.
The penultimate movement is the Benedictus and it makes an interesting
contrast to the preceding movement. The Hosannas come in turn from
various sections of the choir in quick repetition, a device liked by Irish
composers as Seoirse Bodley who does it in his gloriously nationalistic
Symphony no 3 with the words whatever you want.
And so to the final Agnus Die which employs all the forces and is
a major movement recalling many of the features of the previous movements.
The quote from the opening Kyrie gives the work a cyclic effect. The
passage from the Old Irish Lebor na hUidre is a reminder that Victory
was Irish and loved his country. He took no sides in the political divide
but valued Irish culture and was a man of compassion. He told me that this
work was not yet another protest at the futility of war but a call to peace,
something that he believed in.
The soloists are all good. Virginia Kerr is especially fine with wonderfully
secure high notes. There are a few minor flaws in the recording but Coleman
Pearce is faithful to the score.
Gerrys writing for voices, whether as soloists or as a choir, is always
impeccable and often sensuous. His orchestration is equally fine. His operas
and symphonies are indestructible monuments to his incredible skills. If
I can, I plead for a recording of his Symphony no 2. I have yet to hear a
more exciting, colourful and highly entertaining score.
As for Ultima Rerum if you want a hell-for-leather, noisy, grandiose
work you might be disappointed for here we have music of maturity and the
very highest quality. It is music not for effect but music for musics
sake ... a masterpiece.