The Heretic's Tragedy:
a chamber cantata
Robert Browning’s, “The Heretic's Tragedy" is an interlude imagined in the manner of the Middle Ages. The poem’s meter (iambic tetrameter), stanza structure (octets of alternating rhymes), and stage directions suggest a musical setting to be sung by an abbot, a choir-singer, and a chorus.
Browning divulges the following in the preface to the poem:
ROSA MUNDI; SEU, FULCITE ME FLORIBUS. A CONCEIT OF MASTER GYSBRECHT, CANON-REGULAR OF SAINT JODOCUS-BY-THE-BAR, YPRES CITY. CANTUQUE, Virgilius. AND HATH OFTEN BEEN SUNG AT HOCK-TIDE AND FESTIVALS. GAVISUS ERAM, Jessides.
(It would seem to be a glimpse from the burning of Jacques du Bourg-Molay, at Paris, A.D. 1314; as distorted by the refraction from Flemish brain to brain, during the course of a couple of centuries.)
So the poem would appear to be a celebration of the burning of Jacques du Bourg-Molay, last Grand Master of the wealthy and powerful Knights Templar, which came into rivalry with the Church after the Crusades and was finally suppressed by Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, Molay's burning at Paris in 1314 being a final scene in their discomfiture and the Church's triumph.
Browning’s imagining of “The Heretic’s Tragedy” as a found document – apparently written for a 16th century Flemish religious festival and describing an event that occurred in Paris two centuries prior – suggests a garbled retelling of events and subsequent legend-making. In this telling ‘Jacques’ becomes ‘John’ and events with complex political dimensions are recast as a straightforward morality tale.
This idea of distorted historical layers found its way into my musical score. I studied a number of 14th century composers – Machaut in particular – whose influence can be found commingled among more modern, visceral sounds.
Mezzo soprano solo, tenor solo, SSA singers
Instrumentation: clarinet in Bb/doubles bass clarinet, percussion, violin, cello, piano
To inquire about performances, purchase of the score, and rental of parts, please email me at email@example.com