In beauty may I walk
was composed as a leaving present for Anthony Whitworth Jones, a great supporter of Dove’s who commissioned him to compose numerous works for the Glyndebourne Festival including the opera Flight
, on his departure from Glyndebourne in August 1998. This is a short and simple setting of anonymous words from the Navajo translated by the American poet Jerome K Rothenberg, who made a remarkable job of the almost untranslatable. The Navajo is a huge tribe of North American Indians whose reservation (mostly in Arizona) is the largest in the United States. The Navajos have never stopped speaking their native Athabaskan language which is spoken only on the Navajo reservation. Until recently it was an unwritten language. It has no alphabet or symbols and is purely reflective of their way of life. Although the language is complex for outsiders to understand the imagery can be simple and fresh as Rothenberg’s translation shows. Dove’s response is equally simple and uses a chant-like phrase which the basses sing at the start as an endlessly repeated figure which seems to reflect both primitivism and a kind of religious fervour. A second section marked ‘more alert’ and to be sung in a ‘bird-like’ manner has the upper voices pecking at the words ‘Beautifully joyful’. The tenors and basses join and longer-note phrases bring back a feel of the chant which is properly reintroduced in the final section. This builds to a big climax and a quiet ending.
from notes by Paul Spicer © 2010