Alison Willis and the Inspiration for Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum
Alison Willis is a gifted pianist, organist, vocalist and musical director. However, it is her significant talent as the composer of their tenth anniversary commissioned cantata, Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum, that Luminosa are particularly proud to be show-casing and celebrating in their 10th Anniversary concert on the 5th December.
Ali already has an impressive and substantial catalogue of works that have been performed and broadcast internationally.
For inspiration, Ali draws on historical sources and events and her work has been described as ‘intensely moving’, ‘beautiful yet pragmatic’ and yet economical in message. Inspiration for her work comes from her passion for the written word (she often starts with text) and bringing into the light voices which have been silenced in history, mainly but not exclusively, women’s.
The inspiration for Non Omnis Moriar (‘not all of me will die’) which was premiered by the BBC Singers in September 2018, came from a poem of the same name and are the intensely moving words of Zuzanna Ginczanka, a young persecuted Jew, likely executed at the age of 27 just before the liberation of Krakow in 1945.
The Wind’s Warning, premiered in March 2019 by the Gesualdo Six, gives prominence to Ivor Gurney, an English poet and song composer whose experiences of the First World War left him traumatised. Locked away in psychiatric hospitals for the last 15 years of his life, he continued to write poetry and music. Much of his intelligently compassionate work remains unpublished and unrecorded. Ali celebrates his poem ‘Lost the Wind’s Warning’, a bleak reflection on the passing of time and lost opportunities.
Luminosa’s spring concert features Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs, based on the spiritual poems of George Herbert (1593-1633) which sparked Alison’s curiosity into an exploration of the works of female poets of the era whose voices have been silenced and therefore written out of history.
She discovered Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum, published in 1611. Lanyer was the first English woman to publish a volume of original verse and identify herself as a professional poet in her own name when there was a suspicion of women’s writing in print. Alison takes Lanyer’s text which tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion from a female perspective. A powerful section of the poem is narrated by Pilate’s wife who, according to one small verse in the Bible (Matthew 27.19)[i], tried to dissuade her husband from ordering Christ’s death.
Performed in five short movements from Gethsemane to the Cross, with dramatic use of performance space, the musical score evokes emotion and power in equal measure.
When composing Ali sings every voice part as she writes to make sure each is exciting and a pleasure to sing.
Luminosa Voices are thrilled and honoured to be singing Salve Deus at their landmark concert in December.
[i] Good News Bible (Collins/Fontana, 1976, p42): While Pilate was sitting in the judgement hall, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night I suffered much on account of him”