Choral work for SATB, baritone soloist, piano and organ which combines lyrics by Yeats and Wordsworth with sections of the Anglican Te Deum
- 14 minutes
This choral work sets out to be an affirmation of life – one shaped by long immersion in a faith governed by Anglican dogma, and compounded by a continual wonderment at, and perpetual questioning of, the endless beauties of the natural world.
The text sets portions of the hymn “Te Deum laudamus” which has its appointed place, with English words, in the Morning Service of the Anglican Church. Traditionally the Te Deum is also used in festive services of thanksgiving or celebration, but here the composer utilises its liturgical function, intertwining it with lines from four poems – two each by Wordsworth (1770-1850) and W.B.Yeats (1865-1939).
Whilst it is perfectly acceptable to have a firm faith in something with no physical manifestation or logical explanation, the composer increasingly subscribes to a pantheistic approach and a receding conviction in organised religious worship and eschatological concepts.
Lines from Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ (1798) partly suggest an aspiration to see the whole world as a transparent pattern – surely man’s continual intellectual struggle throughout the ages. Ultimately however, it is the world of the senses that the poet accepts as man’s true location, with no real need to seek out an after-life.
There are just four lines selected from Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations of Immortality’ (1802-4). These return to the concept of space, time and the world of the senses and allude to “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” Wordsworth suggests the Platonic myth of the cave, where a soul enters this world through the dark cave of the senses.
It is to Yeats’ ‘The Spur’ (1938) that the composer turns for an epigrammatic, and perhaps ambiguous, reference to an artist’s dark side: “what else have I to spur me into song?”
Yeats’ ‘Prayer for Old Age’ (1935) is set in full. It is a prayer to stay passionate about life in one’s later years, rather than becoming maturely predictable and reasonable – a significant mantra for the composer.
The choir is largely responsible for presenting the religious words, whilst the baritone soloist delivers the poetry, although to conclude the work there is a union with a sense of harmonic and spiritual resolution. The unusual instrumentation of organ and piano serves to colour and highlight the juxtaposition of spiritual and temporal lyrics. The choir and organ remain tonal throughout in keeping with Anglican tradition; the piano employs serial figuration, in part, to represent the conflict and self-doubt in one’s spiritual life, but a strong sense of resolution and conviction shines through confidently at the end.