for mixed choir (SATB div) a cappella
Text: English (Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Charlotte Mew)
1. 1914 IV: The Dead (Rupert Brooke, 1887–1915)
2. Lights Out (Edward Thomas, 1878–1917)
3. May, 1915 (Let us remember Spring will come again) (Charlotte Mew, 1849–1928)
I chose these three texts from a shortlist of poems I had drawn up, all of which had made an immediate impact on first reading; I was unable to decide on only one, and so selected this trio which seemed to complement each other. They share some common themes: death (naturally), and the natural world as a symbol of hope and renewal, or continuing indifference. Most importantly, the poems had an innate eloquence and beauty, and I have tried to be as simple as possible in my musical settings; the words in each are the paramount consideration.
The glowing radiance of Rupert Brooke’s The Dead, taken from his set of sonnets 1914, demanded a simple, almost entirely homophonic setting, with gentle, luminous dissonance highlighting the many beautiful images of this text. The coda in particular has a transcendent glow and the key of D major (one which I associate with great luminosity) seemed to provide the necessary warmth. Edward Thomas’s Lights Out suited a kind of extended strophic form, with more intricate part-writing to give the impression of the ‘unfathomable deep Forest’. It is the one poem of the set which seems not to travel anywhere from its opening, and the obsessive returning to A minor reflects this. Charlotte Mew’s poem is striking for its ultimately hopeful, if hard-won theme. It was only in this poem that I made any real alteration to textural structure: the opening phrase ‘Let us remember Spring will come again’ is repeated throughout, as a yearning promise, yet one which needs constant stressing in dark times. This also enabled the musical climax to be more powerful: the climax is earlier in the text than would be satisfactory in a musical setting. The return of the opening phrase seemed to fit this idea of the phrase as a mantra.
Throughout (and as always) I have tried to respond emotionally, immediately, and with sincerity, in the hope that the listener might be moved by these beautiful words which seem as appropriate today as they ever were.
Texts can be downloaded by clicking here.
David Bednall has a growing reputation as one of the leading choral composers of his generation, and studied for a PhD in Composition with Professor John Pickard at the University of Bristol. He has an extensive freelance playing and conducting career, and is Organist of The University of Bristol, Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral, and conducts The University Singers. He studied with Dr Naji Hakim and David Briggs and was Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral. The first recording of his work, Hail, gladdening light, was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, and the CD Flame Celestial received a Gramophone Recommendation. The recording of his Requiem received similar accolades. A number of his works have been broadcast on radio, and recent work has included Missa Sancti Pauli for St Paul’s Cathedral, and Welcome All Wonders for The Queen’s College, Oxford. The latter is his largest work to date and the recording on Signum has garnered superb international critical acclaim.