Adiemus – Jenkins (1944-present)

This article was written for the August 2022 issue of our parish magazine. You can read it again here:

Whether you love or loathe the work of Karl Jenkins, he is one of the most performed living composers in the world. His most popular piece (alongside his full choral work, “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace”) is this one. Since joining the Manchester Chorale in 2016 I have had the honour of performing many of his works in the Bridgewater Hall, conducted by the man himself, and Adiemus is regularly featured on the programme.

And that was my experience of performing Jenkins – a 60-strong choir singing in 4-part harmony, accompanied by full orchestra with some very obscure woodwind and percussion instruments. It didn’t occur to me that it might be appropriate repertoire for our parish singing group. Imagine my surprise when Tom sent me a link to a version of Adiemus for female voice with piano accompaniment! I tracked down the music and we got to work.

The text is far from easy: it’s 3 minutes and 30 seconds of tongue-twisters:

Ariadiamus late ariadiamus da
Aria natus late adua

Aravare tue vate
Aravare tue vate
Aravare tue vate latea

Ariadiamus late ariadiamus da
Aria natus late adua

Aravare tue vate
Aravare tue vate
Aravare tue vate latea

Anamana coole rawe
Anamana coole ra
Anamana coolerawe akala
Anamana coolerawe akala
Ahya coowah eh
Anamana coolerawe akala
Ahya coowah eh
Aya doo aye
Aya doo aye

Yakama yamayakaya mema
Ahya coowah eh
Yakama meah
Ahya coowah eh

Yakama meah

But what does it mean? Well, Karl Jenkins says in the performance notes to the score that he wrote the lyrics in “an invented language”, and that he wrote out the vocal sounds phonetically to mimic a musical instrument. That’s very interesting, as (with the exception of piano and percussion) all orchestral instruments strive to mimic the fluidity of the voice. It has since been suggested that the lyrics bear an unintentional resemblance to Latin – not really surprising, as Jenkins has also set a number of sacred texts to music – often in Latin. In fact, the word ‘Adiemus’ roughly translates to ‘we will draw near’.

That aside, the absence of intended meaning liberates choirs to ascribe their own meaning to the piece, depending on the context in which it is performed. This was the case for Maggie’s Music Makers, singing Adiemus on Trinity Sunday 2022, which by coincidence was also Music Sunday. We were able to celebrate the mystery of the Trinity and the power of music in worship from the heart, channelled through Jenkins’ words.

Here is a recording of the full choral and orchestral version, as intended by Karl Jenkins, with many sections repeated! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL8kZ-iVk90

Carol P


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