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I will lift up mine eyes 'Psalm 121'

composer
9 November 1989; commissioned for the 1990 City of London Festival; first performed in St Paul's Cathedral on 8 July 1990, John Scott conducting the cathedral choir
author of text
Psalm 121

 
Sir John Tavener (b1944) is an English composer who, in eschewing novelty, intellectualism and unnecessary complexity in his music, has created for himself a distinctly individual voice in contemporary music. Tavener on the one hand uses note rows, canonic and palindromic devices associated with Anton Webern, and on the other he exhibits what has been called ‘a taste for Romantic harmony [which] betrays the influence of Victorian hymn tunes’. Many composers would find this kind of harmonic discrepancy a difficult compositional medium to reconcile and in which to work, but Tavener clearly sees no such dichotomy.

Tavener’s inspiration has been religious texts and the writings of religious mystics. For many years he was organist at a Presbyterian Church, although his interest lay in Roman Catholicism. The year 1977 was a turning point for the composer for he converted to the Orthodox Church. He described this conversion as having the sensation of ‘coming home’. It is in the field of sacred music that this composer has laid out his most significant musical ideas. ‘Art’, says the composer, ‘cannot renew the sacred, but it can be a vehicle for the sacred.’ Characteristic of Tavener’s music is a tendency to inner stillness through sustained chords, and a preoccupation with aspects of religious ritual—such as a solemn procession. The ecstatic nature of his music has inevitably led to comparisons with the music of Olivier Messiaen.

I will lift up mine eyes was completed on 9 November 1989. For unaccompanied choir, it was commissioned by the 1990 City of London Festival. The first performance was given in St Paul’s Cathedral on July 8 of that year, by the choir of St Paul’s conducted by John Scott. The words of Psalm 121 are set homophonically in a series of simple harmonies, scored in such a way as to achieve a rich choral sonority. The mood changes in intensity between sections, some of which are sung over a sustained B in the bass part.

from notes by William McVicker 1991

Recordings

Hear my prayer
CDH55445Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Details

Track 6 on CDH55445 [5'59] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

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