The wonderful plea for peace from the Gospel of John is never out of season, particularly now. Our motet was written by John Harbison for the Emmanuel Choir during a turbulent period of Emmanuel's recent history. The gorgeous warm harmony and the meltingly beautiful lines add up to one of John's most loveable works. The work begins and ends in an impressionistic mist.
In this companion piece to "Wherefore I Put Thee In Remembrance," the atmosphere is one of great tenderness, but there is a hint of ambivalence as well. The opening phrases are a musical metaphor: an angular, circuitous melody, hinting at many tonalities and ending back where it started. Love is of God, and by loving our fellow man we return God's love. The motet is strictly polyphone and imitative – the voices never sing exactly together – except for the phrase "the propitiation for our sins." At the end the injunctions "to love one another" expand in intervals of greater reach and embrace at each repetition, but also each statement exists in a kind of isolation – they project a wistful hope, or even a question, rather than a confident assertion.
©David St. George