Where charity and love are: Paul Mealor’s Ubi Caritas

For a moment amidst all the worldwide hurly-burly, the media frenzy, the royal pomp and the public expectation of the royal wedding, there was a moment of utter stillness: Paul Mealor‘s sublime setting of Ubi Caritas et Amor.

People have pointed out the similarity with Duruflé’s setting of the same text, and fair enough, there may be similarities: both are slow-moving, contemplative, sonorous and richly colourful. And it is hard not to find traces of Duruflé’s setting throughout choral music ever since, such is the magic by which the Frenchman combines intimacy and colour with an accessible musical language: Eric Whitacre, anyone ?

But let’s not take anything away from Mealor’s piece, which casts a similar spell and which succeeded in reminding us that, behind all the pomp and grandeur of such a public occasion, there is actually an intimate union being celebrated at the heart of it all.

Just for a moment, time seemed to stand still; the simple two-part opening, with its open fifths and contrary motion, suddenly blossomed on the second syllable of ‘amor’ into a breathtaking, contrasting five-part cluster-chord, and you could tell this piece was something special. Drawing the listener in with its sparse opening, and then opening out with a chord of exotic colour, then converging again on ‘est’ with such a prominent sustained-fourth Eb in the context of Bb major, the colour at the heart of this piece is at once rainbow-hued and yet accessible: the ear knows where it is, even as it is being overwhelmed with a richly-wrought tapestry of colour as the lines weave amongst each other.

Looking at the piece to purchase on Amazon, I notice under the flagrant ‘Customers Also Bought’ plugging that other people also ‘apparently’ bought Adele, Jessie J and Ellie Goulding. If there was any doubt that Mealor’s piece has an approachability that transcends genres and appeals to listeners of other musical genres, (even those who like Adele’s out-of-tune effort-ful balladeering), this surely is it.

So much for the idea that contemporary music is inaccessible. Utterly breathtaking.


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