for soprano solo, upper voices, SSATB, piano, and optional percussion
A Time for all Seasons is an evocative cantata that explores the complexities of the human condition. The well-known To every thing there is a season text from Ecclesiastes is interwoven with a modern-day reworking of the verses by award-winning poet Kevin Crossley-Holland. McDowall's impressive range of musical styles, effective antiphonal writing, and artful juxtaposition of textures work together to create a meaningful experience for the listener. The work's scoring contributes to the narrative, with sections for solo soprano or full choir contrasting with prescient interjections from the uppervoice choir. The part for upper voices may also be sung by a children's choir, and there is an optional part for percussion.
At the heart of A Time for all Seasons lies the extraordinary text from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 - 'To every thing there is a season'. The poetry of these universal and familiar words has been set in context by the award-winning author and poet Kevin Crossley-Holland, who, by reworking these verses, has brought a present-day perspective to the cantata in a subtle and evocative fashion.
The upper (or children's) voices thread a running commentary in both the first and last sections; at the start they sing an abbreviated first line of the Ecclesiastes text, and in the last - 'There is nothing new under the sun' - present a prescient reminder of how things are and will be. The choir begins the work in a joyous mood, but then moves on to a more contemplative appraisal of reality. The soprano solo brings a relaxed and slightly jazzy flavour to the words 'When sudden birdsong is alarming', but is cut off by the return of the opening choral material.
In the bright middle section the upper voices sing the words of Ecclesiastes - 'a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted' - with interjections from the sopranos and altos of the main choir. The soprano solo leads into the final section which, in the face of possible catastrophe, urges us to draw 'near to your creator'. Underlying the closing part of the work is a phrase taken from the 13th-century Latin sequence Dies irae - a musical premonition, perhaps, of things to come. The upper voices have the last word.