“Jubilate Agno,” the Latin title of a long 18th-century poem by Christopher Smart, means “Rejoice in the Lamb.”
The meaning of the poem isn’t always so clear, which isn’t surprising, given that Smart was in a madhouse when he wrote it. But the poem’s religious intensity is unmistakable and drew 20th-century English composer Benjamin Britten to base a work of choral music on some of its lines.
“It’s very lively. It’s not an easy piece to sing,” said Paul Madore, conductor of Salem’s Paul Madore Chorale, which will perform “Jubilate Agno” and two other works by Britten at a concert this Sunday in Beverly.
“It’s actually kind of funny — the poetry is almost nonsensical,” he said.
The poem includes a hymn of praise to the poet’s cat, Jeoffry, and a mystical interpretation of the alphabet, among other unusual exercises.
Britten, whose 100th birthday will be celebrated in 2013, composed work that ranges from popular and appealing to complex and experimental. The three pieces in the Madore Chorale’s concert are some of his more accessible works, Madore said. Along with “Jubilate Agno,” which was written in 1943, the chorus will sing “A Ceremony of Carols” from 1942.
“‘A Ceremony of Carols’ is more of a traditional type of piece,” Madore said. “It’s intended as an evensong in the Anglican Church. It’s basically Old English carols.”
The lyrics are occasionally in Latin, but more often in English, as that language was spoken in the early Middle Ages.
“We sing ‘welcome yule,’ but pronounce it wolcum yole,” Madore said.
Britten, who died in 1976 and was a friend of English poet W.H. Auden, often used literary texts for his compositions. Two of the carols are based on poems by 16th-century poet Robert Southwell, who was canonized as a Catholic saint in 1970.
The only accompaniment to the singing of “Carols” is provided by a harp, which will be played by Emily Lewis of Salem, and it includes a brief interlude in the middle.
“It’s one of the greatest harp pieces I’ve ever heard,” Madore said.
The concert will also include “A Simple Symphony,” an instrumental work that was written for either a string orchestra or a quartet and was originally performed in 1934. The Madore Chorale will feature a quintet with two violins, a viola, a cello and a bass.
“This piece works very well for a small ensemble,” Madore said. “It’s very fun. He originally wrote it as an educational piece for kids.”
Madore said he has always enjoyed Britten’s work, and the concert is a way to celebrate the composer’s upcoming birthday.
Over the years, the Madore Chorale, which has been directed by Paul Madore since 1966, has performed more than 75 classical works by more than 40 composers.
In 1997, during a tour of Italy, the chorale sang at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and also performed for Pope John Paul II at a papal audience.
A TRIBUTE TO BENJAMIN BRITTEN What: Concert by Paul Madore Chorale When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. Where: First Parish Church, 225 Cabot St., Beverly Tickets: $22 general admission, $18 for seniors (60 and over), and students (18 and under). More information: 781-592-7284 or www.paulmadorechorale.org.