Jonathan Dove’s The Three Kings
, a setting of Dorothy L Sayers, was commissioned for the 2000 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Sayers’s division of the kings into three ages, with a stanza each—young, middle and old respectively—gives the piece its structure; the melancholic mood is immediately established by the beautifully simple lullaby refrain. Dove achieves a magical transformation at the start of the third stanza, by unexpectedly switching to the major mode. He then expands the scoring at ‘many a gaud and glittering toy’, the inner voices providing a sparkling pointillistic accompaniment to the slower-moving melody. An ecstatic climax is reached; but this subsides into a wistful repeat of the opening refrain, leaving a question-mark hanging over the scene.
from notes by Robert Quinney © 2008