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English composer, musicologist and teacher John Caldwell was born at Bebington in Cheshire on 6 July 1938. He studied at Liverpool's Matthay School of Music and at Keble College, Oxford.
As a composer he is probably best known for his operatic trilogy Paschale Mysterium, a processional operatic Easter trilogy, recounting the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. It drew generous acclaim when it was first performed by three college choirs in Oxford.
The first-to-be-composed opera-oratorio, Good Friday, was first performed in Oxford in February 1998.
Caldwell's opera The Word received its first performance on 2 March 2001 at the Catholic Chaplaincy, Oxford UK, with two further stagings in Oxford and Tewkesbury. Roderic Dunnett writes:
Based on the New Testament story of Easter Week leading up to the Last Supper, it includes some challenging writing for chorus, adeptly carried off by members of the Lincoln College Choir and Oxford Contemporary Voices. Divided into a Prologue and ten scenes, which also hark back to the Baptism, the Cleansing of the Temple and the Raising of Lazarus, The Word revealed a marked range and variety of stylistic features, whose detail was greatly enhanced by the orchestral playing of the Cheltenham-based Corelli Ensemble, directed here by Benjamin Nicholas. Ben Linton sang the Evangelist and Will Tallon the role of Jesus.
On Sunday 10 June 2007, Good Friday was performed in Nairobi, Kenya, in St Paul's University Chapel, as a result of a collaboration between Caldwell and the forty-strong St Paul's Community Choir of Nairobi University. The opera's narrations are taken from the Gospel of St John and are sung in Latin by three singers in a quasi-liturgical fashion. The dramatic action parallels the Gospel narrative. The co-operation between Caldwell and the Kenyan choir began in 2006 when he and his wife Janet visited Nairobi for the St Paul's choir's Christmas concert, for which he was asked to compose a setting for them of the Magnificat in the Swahili language. The setting, Moyo wangu, was first performed at the concert in Nairobi.
Caldwell's other music includes Gratiarum actio for chorus and trumpet, Poem for string quartet, Parce mihi for solo tenor, chorus and keyboard, Introduction and Rondo for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the choral work Ecce lignum, Four songs of Thomas Wyatt for alto and cello, Romanza for string quintet, Evening Prayer for clarinet, tenor and piano; Intimations of Mortality for bass voice and piano, Canticum ad Deum Patrem for eight voices and string quintet, the choral work Ecce sacerdos magnus and three motets for six voices.
He taught at Bristol University (1963-66) and at Oxford University from 1966 until retiring in 2005.