When I began thinking about the poem that has become The King and the Robin, I read a certain amount about Edward the Confessor—and realized that we know precious little about him. As a living, breathing man, that is. What we do have, though, are a number of contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of the miraculous good deeds that he was able to perform—healing the blind, for instance. This lack of precise information, combined with the suggestiveness of the healing stories, pushed me in the direction of thinking I might write something which had the feel (roughly) of a medieval lyric: the kind of poem which uses stock images and ideas (orchards, mysterious encounters and so on), and draws on their accumulated associations while adding its own emphases.
I hope The King and the Robin might have this kind of combination. I’m not aware of a story in which we see the king meeting such a bird, but their encounter here triggers a little debate which I hope his chroniclers would recognize as being essentially true. A debate, that is to say, about the relative merits of ‘action’ and ‘art’—and about our continuing need to combine them. As the idea developed, I tried to move between an up-front kind of language and a more ornamental one—partly to reflect the argument of the poem in its sounds, and partly to give the composer some variety to work with …
The composer Philip Moore, director of music at York Minster since 1983, has responded imaginatively to the rich imagery and texture of the poem. Much of his melodic and harmonic material is derived from the first three bars of the piece and Moore takes every opportunity for word-painting and characterization; most obviously, perhaps, the King is depicted by a baritone soloist and the mythical figure of the Robin by a solo treble. The final two lines of the text, in which the two protagonists agree that both ‘action’ and ‘art’ are equally valuable and combine to make ‘a thousand years of praise’, are brilliantly set in an exciting fugue that builds up to a blazing conclusion.
from notes by James O'Donnell © 2006