New music for Pentecost: Sweet Spirit Comfort Me

St Paul’s Cathedral had another composition competition. I only found out about it around ten days before the deadline but decided it was worth at least looking at the suggested texts and having a go at writing something.

The result? Three verses of Robert Herrick’s “Litany to the Holy Spirit”, set for SATB. It’s a bit mournful perhaps, but so is the text. Each verse is set differently, so adding further verses isn’t straightforward.

You can hear robots singing it here (MIDI file), and the sheet music is available here, both from the Choral Public Domain Library.

I’ve uploaded robot flutes playing to Soundcloud, too:

If you’d like a more cheerful setting, Dr Francis Roads has written one, available from his website under the title “In the hour of my distress”.

Music for St Michael and All Angels

Today I’ve been to St Paul’s Cathedral for Evensong, to hear the winning entry in the recent New Music Competition. There were 58 entrants, out of which one was chosen for the £1000 prize.

Andrew Cusworth chose the same text as I did for the competition, one previously used by Richard Dering in this gem (YouTube link). It was interesting to hear the difference in our approaches to it. I like to think that there are some similarities, and of course I can’t make a fair comparison having heard his piece once and knowing mine rather better than that, but I think his is the better composition, both in terms of technical polish and in terms of suitability for that cathedral. So congratulations to Andrew Cusworth!

I struggled over my submission, trying to be faithful to the idea of angels as strange and terrifying beings, but also to stay within strict limits — SATB + organ, under 4 minutes — and keep the piece suitable for use in a liturgical setting. In the end I knew I hadn’t quite managed the latter; what I wrote was too exciting, too dramatic, and too ragged round the edges to fit into a stately Evensong. I did start over several times with several versions of the text in English and Latin, and each time it seemed to demand such a treatment. Eventually I gave up, tidied up what I had and submitted that.

It doesn’t look like Andrew’s version is online. So, here is my version: Factum est silentium [PDF] [MIDI]. Of course, the midi version sounds like robots rather than angels, but that’s always the way of these machines! As always this is released under a CC-BY-SA license. Perhaps in a different building with a different choir it will work better, or perhaps someone else can take my ideas and develop them.

It was while I was researching the Revelation-based text of Richard Dering’s “Factum est silentium” that I happened across a blog which eventually led me to Dust, a blog I’ve been trying to keep up with and very much enjoying the last few days as its author has been to a very shiny conference. (He quotes Christopher Smart in his subtitle, too.) My own research into psalmody has mostly consisted of reading a lot and doing some singing, and is much less advanced; I expect that much of the Oxford Psalms Conference would have been beyond my grasp. Nevertheless, I’m really glad to have found this rather random connection, which I might not have otherwise stumbled upon.