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Hyperion Records

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The Ancient of Days by William Blake (1757-1827)
The Whitworth Gallery, The University of Manchester
Track(s) taken from CDA67020
Recording details: September 1997
St Mary the Virgin, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: March 1998
Total duration: 4 minutes 10 seconds

Vital spark of heav'nly flame
composer
A Set of Hymn and Psalm Tunes, London, c1765
author of text
The Dying Christian to his Soul

Introduction
Vital spark of heav’nly flame, a setting of Pope’s poem ‘The Dying Christian to his Soul’ by Edward Harwood, is one of the most famous pieces of psalmody. Harwood was a weaver from Hoddlesdon near Darwen in Lancashire who supposedly ‘went to Liverpool to sing in one of the churches there, and sang until he burst a blood vessel’; he is buried at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool. ‘Vital spark’ was often performed by nineteenth-century parish choirs in four-part adaptations, though Harwood’s original uses the three-part ‘trio sonata’ writing associated with Nonconformists. Much of the vocal writing is surprisingly sophisticated and elaborate for a provincial amateur, and suggests the influence of the ‘sensibility’ style of German composers such as C P E Bach. For this reason we have allocated most of the piece to solo voices with organ continuo, interpreting a mysterious change to four-part writing at the end as the entrance of a choir.

from notes by Peter Holman 1998

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