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The poem is a sonnet, with the normal break after the eight of the fourteen lines. The first part is set for nine-part a capella choir and begins over a pedal note A, the music representing the round earth and its imagined corners (the clashing B sung by the basses). It develops in dramatic fashion, the trebles at first representing the angels’ trumpets. The music, while being harmonically directional, is largely homophonic or ‘layered’. The second part matches Donne’s change of mood—the drama and vision of Resurrection give way to a personal prayer by the sinner. The choir is now in eight parts and the texture predominantly homophonic as the text moves from ‘But let them sleep Lord’ to the final ‘As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood’. The initial A of the anthem has flowered into full-blooded A major, representing the fulfilment and hope of salvation for which Donne pleads so powerfully and eloquently.
The anthem is dedicated to John Scott and the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, and to my partner Teresa Cahill, for whom St Paul’s means so much.
from notes by William McVicker © 1992
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