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Specially recorded by the BBC Singers (the BBC's own full-time professional choir, and one of the world's great vocal ensembles) conducted by their Conductor Laureate Stephen Cleobury, the timeline gives a bird's eye view of some of the peaks of the choral repertoire, of the developments in choral writing over the centuries, and of the music of some of the modern-day composers.

Edward Cowie (b.1943)

Edward Cowie emerged as a major international composer in 1975 with his BBC Prom commission, Leviathan.

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His relationship with the BBC Singers goes back to the mid-1970s, and since then he has composed several major works for the group. His appointment, in 2002, as the group's first-ever Associate Composer is highly apposite to a composer who loves the human voice more than any other instrument.

Shorelarks, recorded here has been specially composed for the BBC Singers and is the first of three motets devoted to a 'representation' (and relocation) of the sounds and habitats of the three native British Larks, namely the Shore Lark, Wood Lark and Sky Lark. Whilst poets galore have written on the soaring complexity of the skylark, the voices and behaviours of the other two species are much less known!

Like a great deal of Edward Cowie's music, An Exultation of Larks was preceded by much field-work including paintings, drawings and notations of songs and habitat-sounds. The pieces are more 'relocations' of the behaviours, patterns, shapes and moods of a place than a mere copy of natural sound (as in Messiaen's case). An Exultation of Larks is an expression that dates back more than 300 years. It is one of a large group of collective nouns used to describe groups of animals, such as a charm of finches and a murmuration of starlings. Edward Cowie himself says that "The human voice remains the primal instrument of our species. Because the Larks themselves are already vocal virtuosos, this set of pieces is really a kind of 'chamber concerto' for voices". Shorelarks turns ornithological virtuosity into the human kind - with the upper voices imitating the singing of the birds, while the lower ones conjure up the stillness of their natural habitat.

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