Hyperion Records

The World's Desire 'A Sequence for Epiphany', Op 91
composer
1984; commissioned by the BBC and first performed by the BBC Northern Singers under Stephen Wilkinson at the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, on 9 December 1984
author of text
various Gospel texts; Liturgy of the Feast of the Theophany; selected by David Craig
author of text
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning, to the tune Was lebet, NEH 52
author of text
The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap
author of text
Bright babe, whose awful beauties make

Recordings
'Leighton: The World's Desire & other choral works' (CDA67641)
Leighton: The World's Desire & other choral works
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Details
Part 1 No 1: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem
Part 1 No 2: Bright babe, whose awful beauties make
Part 2 No 1: The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap
Part 2 No 2: Behold, I send my messenger
Part 2 No 3: Today the grace of the spirit

The World's Desire 'A Sequence for Epiphany', Op 91
The World’s Desire (subtitled ‘A Sequence for Epiphany’) arose from a BBC commission in which Leighton was requested to write a work that reflected facets of both the Western and Eastern liturgy relating to the Feast of the Epiphany. It received its premiere on 9 December 1984, performed by the BBC Northern Singers conducted by Stephen Wilkinson, at the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire. It is a further instance of Leighton’s belief that for him ‘the subject matter of the Christian tradition has always continued to be a powerful and natural stimulus to composition, particularly from the instinctive and emotional point of view’.

In the Epiphany story, the Western liturgy places a stronger emphasis on Christ’s divinity as manifested at his baptism in the river Jordan. By comparison the Greek liturgy focuses on St John’s image of the Epiphany being ‘the day of light’ with Christ portrayed as ‘the light of men’. Since there was very little existing music that referred to the waters of Jordan or the significance of the splendour of the light of Christ, Leighton’s challenge was to address this in his composition. David Craig chose the texts which are taken from St Matthew’s Gospel (King James version), Bishop Reginald Heber, Richard Crashaw, G K Chesterton and the Russian Orthodox Service.

The sequence is cast in two parts, which are divided into linked sections. Part I (comprising two sections) begins with a majestic organ introduction, embedded in which is the opening phrase of the hymn tune ‘Was lebet, was schwebet’, from the Rheinhardt MS, Uttingen 1754, (Hymn 42 of The English Hymnal). The hymn permeates the work, set here to Bishop Heber’s words ‘Brightest and best of the sons of the morning’. In the manner of a dramatic scena bass and tenor solos, interspersed with choir, describe the events of the Epiphany as recounted by St Matthew. The opening phrase of the hymn tune establishes a texture of choral quietude, over which the tenor, with mounting fervour, describes the Wise Men’s discovery of the infant Jesus. Three trebles sing the first verse of the hymn as a link to the second section, an ardent unaccompanied carol setting Crashaw’s ‘Bright babe, whose awful beauties make/The morn incur a sweet mistake’. Basses take up the second verse of the hymn tune, joined by sopranos in canon, until choir and congregation join to sing the first three verses as the conclusion to Part I.

Part II is in three sections, beginning with another a cappella carol, G K Chesterton’s ‘The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap’. Although gentle in character there is intensity too, and in the final verse music of tender beauty as the solo treble voice soars above the choir with a melismatic melody. Powerful organ chords symbolizing the voice of God usher in the second section as the solo bass, declaiming words from St Matthew’s Gospel, sets the scene for Christ’s baptism. This is described by the tenor in an impassioned solo and the section concludes with God’s voice from heaven ethereally evoked by the choir, now divided into seven parts. To a joyous rocking rhythm short solos begin the third section driving the music to a climax, an organ flourish and the reappearance of the hymn tune sung by all voices. To the words ‘Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven’, from the Russian Orthodox Service, the choir trebles sing an affirmative melodic phrase which is taken up by the other voices, leading to another climax and the final triumphant rendition of the hymn decorated by the trebles’ and altos’ exultant descant.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2008

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