by Lien-yueh Wei





John Rutter’s “Third Movement,” in The Falcon, on the CD, Magnificat



Composed by John Rutter; Conducted by John Rutter

Performed by St Paul’s Cathedral Choir / Cambridge Singers / City of London Sinfonia with Andrew Lucas

“The Falcon” was Rutter's first large-scale choral piece. This is based on a medieval poem of the same name, and taps into eucharistic imagery and grail legend. This piece included decidedly modern aspects as well as ancient sounds from Gregorian chants. Rutter uses a boys’ choir (St. Paul’s Cathedral) for this piece. 


Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men.

He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people,

and God himself shall be with them (21:3, KJV).

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more;

the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,

and he will lead them to springs of living water (7:16-17, RSV).


*Urbs Jerusalem beata,     

Dicta pacis visio,         

Quae construitur in caelis,  

Vivis ex lapidibus,        

Et angelis coronata,       

Ut sponsata cpmite. (c. 7th century) 

*(Blessed city Jerusalem, vision of peace, built in heaven from living stones, and crowned by the angels like a bride for her consort)


And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,

and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,

Neither shall there be any more pain,

for the former things are passed away (21:4, KJV).


**Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi;

Dona nobis pacem. (from the Ordinary of the Mass)

**(Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace) 


The context of the interpreter

John Rutter was born in London in 1945 and received his first musical training as a chorister at Highgate School. He went on to study music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he wrote his first published compositions and conducted his first recording while still an undergraduate.

His compositional career has embraced both large and small scale choral works, various orchestra and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, two children’s operas, music for television, and specialist writing for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King’s Singers. His larger choral works, Requiem (1985) and Magnificat (1990), have been performed many times in Britain, the USA, and a growing number of other countries.

From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College, whose choir he directed in a number of broadcasts and recordings. After giving up the Clare post to allow more time for composition, he formed the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording, and he now divides his time between composition and conducting. He has guest-conducted or lectured at many concert halls, universities, churches, music festivals, and conferences in Europe, Scandinavia, and North America.

In 1980 he was made an honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, and in 1988 a Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians. In 1996 the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Lambeth Doctorate of Music upon him in recognition of his contribution to church music. In 2002 his setting of Psalm 150, commissioned for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, was performed at the Service of Thanksgiving in St Paul’s Cathedral.


The text of Revelation

Rev 7:16-17 and 21:3-4 are the passages about God’s promise. Comparing with others descriptions in Revelation, God’s promise is “a plain statement.” Hearers and readers can totally understand it without confusion.

Moreover, in Revelation God speaks directly for only two times: 1:8 and 21:3-4. It is clear that John wants to emphasize highly what God says in the second times not only because this divine message is waited for twenty-chapter long and is situated in the concluding part of the entire narrative but also because this message express a ultimate promise of God, which is underlined by God’s own command to John to write it down.

It seems that John aims to make God’s promise more definite and conspicuous than other descriptions or messages. If so, God’s promise should be regarded as the primary and ultimate message in Revelation.


The interpretation of John Rutter 

By his music and other lyrics in this song, we find that Rutter’s understanding and thus interpretation of the nature of God’s promise in Rev 7:16-17 and 21:3-4 is peaceful.

First, he interprets God’s promise as a peaceful image by his music. The temple is andante from the beginning to the end. The main instrument is violin. The secondary instruments are French horn and flute. The theme is sung by boy choir. The sounds of harp and (tubular) bell are used as background music to make this song more smooth and peaceful. Although there are some accents from the sounds of trumpet or timpani, hearers will not feel uncomfortable or noisy. The entire song is presented as a peaceful piece. 

      Second, by his lyrics his choose with the Revelation’s text, we find his interpretation of God’s promise is also peaceful. He quotes two non-apocalyptic texts in this song with the Revelation’s text. We may regard these two texts as a supplementary element for the interpretation of God’s promise. Thus, we may find Rutter’s understanding of God’s promise from these two texts. The only word appeared in both texts is “peace” (“vision of peace” in the middle part and “grant us peace” in conclusive part). Peace is both a theme and a conclusion of this song.  


Help to see what did not see before

We may find some new understandings of God’s promise in Rev 7:16-17 and especially 21:3-4, the ultimate message of Revelation, from Rutter interpretation. First, this peaceful image about the ultimate message of Revelation resonates with one of the most known images in prophetic tradition, that is, the image that “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den (Isa 11:6-8).”

Second, this peaceful image make us recall that in the narrative of Revelation John intends to locate God’s people in a peaceful environment (or to create a peaceful place for God’s people) and to situate other people in a chaotic one. If the ultimate goal of John’s narrative is to convey a peaceful message, we may see the other violet descriptions as a contrast or a foil to this message. Every description or metaphorical image in John’s vision could be seen as a servant of this promise, a guide to find this promise and an amplifier to reiterate it. Namely, the purpose of all other destructive descriptions is not to construct a violent but a peaceful image. The destructive narrative ushers in a peaceful world rather than a world of annihilation.

Third, Apocalyptic climax need not to be the climax of passion or emotion, but the climax of peace. It is this peace in God’s promise that people can find comfort when they confront difficult situation, can find hope toward the future, and can find the strength to maintains and upholds faith and outlook which embraces all things, including death.



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