Roger Marsh Composer

The Big Bang 1989


Date   November 1989

Title The Big Bang

Subtitle/descriptive labels  A dramatic oratorio for voices and instruments; Old Testament Tales of love and intrigue; A kaleidoscope of sex and violence

Category   Music Theatre

Composer Roger Marsh (with some additions by students)

Texts  Compiled and adapted from the Old Testament by the composer.

Director   Roger Marsh

Venue   Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall


Description of set

Scaffolding was used to create a stepped square wall at the rear of the stage, on which all singers and musicians sat facing forwards, singers spread amongst the instrumentalists with no discernable logic. Raised scaffolding platforms led from each side to secondary raised stages on which various scenes took place.  Most of the action, though, was on the floor of the concert hall in front of the musicians and singers.


Programme note

In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on Earth, starting from a definite centre and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space, from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle.”

                                                Steven Weinberg: The first three minutes


When I began work on The Big Bang as long ago as 1976, I had it in mind to create a mythological kaleidoscope in which many aspects of our Judeo-Christian culture might be made to resonate with a vast visual and musical construction in which ‘narrative’ played very little part.  A musical counterpart to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, The Big Bang would be a complex, many-layered oratorio drawing together many themes and references from the Old Testament and uniting them by musical means.  Like Joyce, too, I wanted to disguise history in the clothes of contemporary, day to day existence, and not to allow the antiquity of the subject matter to obscure its continuing relevance for our society. For the Old Testament is, after all, a history, and a history full of events and tales which remain a part of our daily life, even if – for some of us- the details and circumstances of those events are no longer very clearly recalled.

And so I began to ‘raid’ the Old Testament, producing a number of vocal and theatrical pieces dealing with the texts which fired my imagination.  The ‘Song of Songs’ gave rise to a concert work for voices and instruments entitled Three Hale Mairies, Psalm 39 combined with a sermon by St Bernard of Clairvaux and a song by Paul McCartney (‘You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs…..’) to become A Psalm and a Silly Love Song. A music theatre piece in Japanese style dealt with the appalling arrogance of Samson and his eventual downfall. A growing fascination with the exploits of David led to The Song of Abigail, a melodrama in which Abigail herself sings/speaks a rather lengthy and intriguing tale which “concerns a protection racket”.

By now the nature of my response to the contents of the Old Testament was changing, and the rather abstract and indistinct kaleidoscopic image with which I began had become more concretely narrative. Some of the stories are simply to good, too intriguing, too provocative to allow them to be diluted in a Joycean (or Cagean) way.  They are not so good, however, that one cannot call into question some of the ‘messages’ which they convey.  For if one thing is clear from history it is that nothing much really changes, and so it comes as no surprise to find the even the Lord’s work was carried out by executives whose moral code was distinctly ‘flexible’. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the exploits of King David, whose steady rise to power, acquisition of land, wealth and titles (and women) led to the eventual supremacy of God’s chosen people. And here is the central paradox – that no single figure in the Bible (except Christ) symbolizes strength and moral supremacy more than David, and yet no single figure gives rise to more tortured moral debate than him, for his methods often run close to those of the worst banana republic dictator.

Should we forgive him his involvement in murder out of gratitude for the bequest of 150 psalms?  Or should we dispassionately concede that chauvinism is a fact of life, and that atrocities are committed in our name whether we like it or not?

Score  Novello & Co Ltd, London

Programme (worth a close look at the cast list!)