Thames Pageant cantata for young players and singers to words by Camilla Jessel, 1969, 32'

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In 1969 Andrzej Panufnik accepted a commission from the Borough of Richmond to write an educational piece that could be performed by the combined forces of children from local schools. The composer came up with the idea of writing the work about the River Thames flowing nearby and asked his wife to write a suitable text. Camilla wrote a cycle of humorous illustrative poems containing references to various events from the history of England. Thus Panufnik wrote the cantata Thames Pageant scored for two boys’ choirs, two flutes, two trumpets, trombone (or oboe, clarinet or bassoon), percussion and groups of strings (seniors and juniors).  

The work consists of the following movements: Julius Caesar, Hymn to St. Frideswide, The Ghosts of London Bridge, Magna Carta, Pope’s Weeping Willows, Laughing Fishes, The Boat Race. Using a 3-note cell, E-F-B, the composer created this time a light and humorous piece, unlike Universal Prayer , a serious work in all respects, which preceded it. The music often illustrates the lyrics, as in Laughing Fishes, where the composer introduces an imitation of laughter in the choral part (on the syllables ‘ha, ha, ha, ha’), and The Boat Race, which is a kind of musical account of the famous boat race featuring the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. At the end of this movement, when the commentator would give the name of the race winner, the composer introduces an element of choice, depending on whether the players support Cambridge or Oxford.

Thames Pageant, performed for the first time on 7 February 1970 in Twickenham under Eric Griffiths’ baton, is an example of music for children, very popular in England, combining purely educational values with artistic values.