Here Be Angels

Motet for Double Chorus

In Here Be Angels I wanted to look at different aspects of the nature of Angels from the point of view of the pre-Reformation and early post-Reformation periods. A time when the Angelic host could be rigorously divided into nine categories, each with their own particular characteristics; when Angels could be given names and have real characters; when the argument about how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin represented a very real philosophical argument about the very nature of Angels; and when the poet Milton could describe and name the rebel Angels with such force.

A subtitle for the piece might be Angels and their names, as the names of the Angels and the names of the Angelic hosts run as threads through all three movements. The first movement includes the names and descriptions of the nine ranks of Angels, the second includes a list of individual Angels’ names and the final movement includes the names of the rebel Angels.

The work is written for unaccompanied double chorus. One chorus might be described as the earth-bound chorus, sung by lower voices (Altos, Tenors and Basses) and the second chorus as the more ethereal chorus, sung by higher voices (Sopranos, Altos and Tenors). To emphasise the split between the choirs the outer movements are bi-tonal (the first choir sings in a different key to that of the second choir).

When producing the piece, I was concerned to write a dramatic work that was both challenging and enjoyable for the choir to sing. To dramatise the text, I used various other musical techniques, in addition to the more conventional ones: certain sections are aleatoric and unmeasured, in each of these, the beginning and end of the section is indicated by the conductor. Within the section, the individual choir members choose the speed and rhythm of the notes that they sing, though the notes themselves are fixed. Some passages mix singing with unpitched, rhythmical speaking of the text. Other passages reduce the speaking of the text to an unrhythmical muttering. Besides giving the freedom to choose speeds and rhythms, other passages specify the rhythm but allow the individual singers to choose the exact pitches of the notes within a given range.

The text is drawn from a variety of sources. The first movement uses passages from The Celestial Hierarchy by Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite. Written in the 6th Century, this was the first book to formalise the Angelic host into nine groups (three groups of three). The second movement uses a list of Angel’s names from the Book of Enoch (a work preserved by the Ethiopian church), combined with a discussion on how many Angels can dance on a pin. The final movement uses some of the lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost that describe the rebel Angels.

The first movement opens with a prelude that is an evocation of heaven. At first we see Heaven from a distance as the earthly choir sings Alleluias and are answered by distant echoes of the singing of the heavenly host. Then, as we approach closer to Heaven, both choirs combine to name and describe the nine ranks of Angels dwelling there. The heavenly choir’s descriptions of the Angelic host being accompanied by unpitched passages designed to evoke the beating of the Angels’ wings.

The second movement combines the slow movement and the scherzo. The altos and tenors engage in a discussion about how many Angels can dance on a pin. This starts out humorously but develops into a philosophical discussion with quotations from such writers as St. Thomas Aquinas. The sopranos and basses accompany this by slowly singing a list of the names of Angels.

The final movement describes the snarling, growling assembly of the host of rebel Angels. Occasionally one of the rebel commanders, such as Moloch, Peos or Chemor, appears accompanied by snatches of a march. Later, some of the more exotic rebels appear, such as Astarte or Ashtoreth, accompanied by more erotic, languorous melodies. Finally, amidst the clamour, Satan himself appears, the hosts hoist their banners and the music takes on the form of a steady, but rather noisy, march. We leave Satan in all his fallen glory, at the head of his myriad hosts, waiting revenge.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
The word of God has provided nine designations for the heavenly beings, angels, archangels, transcendent principalities, authorities, powers, dominions, divine thrones, cherubim, seraphim, always and forever near God and with God.

The first sphere angels who serve as heavenly counsellors, for ever around God, united with him
Seraphim, fire-makers, carriers of warmth
Cherubim, fullness of knowledge, outpouring of wisdom
Thrones, of equal order with the cherubim and seraphim

The middle rank of the heavenly hierarchy. The second sphere angels who work as heavenly governors.
Dominions, a lifting up which is free, unfettered by earthly tendencies
Holy Powers, unshakeable courage in all its God-like activities
Holy Authorities, harmoniously, unfailingly uplifted toward the things of God

The final rank in the hierarchy, the third sphere angels who function as heavenly messengers.
Heavenly Principalities, who possess a God-like, princely hegemony, the power to
receive to the full mark of the Principle of Principles
Archangels, who commune with the most Holy Principalities and with the Holy Angels
Angels, who possess the final quality of being an angel, they too make known the
enlightenment proceeding from the Deity.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia


Would it bother you if you did not know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Do angels dance to the rhythm of today’s raucous beat or do they do it cheek-to cheek?
Is the count made when angels are standing on one foot or on two?
If the angels use their wings for balance, is it cheating.
Do angels really enjoy dancing or standing on the heads of pins.

Would it bother you if you did not know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

One Angel - since an angel is incorporeal, it would entirely fill the pin. The pin would need to be animated by one angelic substance excluding all others.
None - because angels have no spatial position.
As many as they please - because ‘on’ can only mean ‘attending to’ and one attention does not exclude others. An angel is in a place, not as a body is said to be in a place but by the application of its power to that place.

Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraquel, Gabriel, Remiel, Smlazaz, Arklba, Rameel ,Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel. Zaqlel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel, Semjaza

Those who, from the pit of Hell
Roaming to seek their prey on Earth, durst fix
Their seats, next the seat of God,
Their altars by his altar and durst abide
Jehovah thundering out of Sion, throned
Between the Cherubim; with cursed things
His holy rites and solemn feasts profaned,
And with their darkness durst affront his light.

First, Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood of human sacrifice
Next Chemos, th' obscene dread of Moab's sons, from Aroar to Nebo and the wild of southmost Abarim;
Peor, his lustful orgies, lust hard by hate, drove them thence to hell.
Baalim and Ashtaroth, spirits either sex assume, in what shape they choose, works of love or enmity fulfil.
Astoreth, Queen of Heaven with crescent horns
Astarte, beguiling.
Next Dagon, sea-monster, upward man and downward fish, dreaded throughout the coast.
Osiris, Isis, Orus, with monstrous shapes and sorceries abused Fanatic Egypt.
Belial, a Spirit more lewd Fell not from Heaven,

All in a moment through the gloom were seen
Ten thousand banners rise into the air,
Their dread Commander, he, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower. An archangel ruined,
Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride
Waiting revenge.

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