Hyperion Records

August 1939; first performed in 1984; published in 1989
author of text

'Britten: Sacred and Profane & other choral works' (CDH55438)
Britten: Sacred and Profane & other choral works
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55438  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Prayer I  Jesu that dost in Mary dwell
Track 6 on CDH55438 [2'23] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Rosa mystica  In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine
Track 7 on CDH55438 [3'43] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: God's grandeur  The world is charged with the grandeur of God
Track 8 on CDH55438 [3'03] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4: Prayer II  Thee, God, I come from, to thee go
Track 9 on CDH55438 [3'03] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 5: O Deus, ego amo te  O God, I love thee
Track 10 on CDH55438 [1'46] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 6: The soldier  Yes. Why do we all, seeing a soldier, bless him?
Track 11 on CDH55438 [2'13] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 7: Heaven-Haven  I have desired to go
Track 12 on CDH55438 [1'31] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

In spite of an astonishing technical facility which might have led a less discriminating composer astray, the young Britten exercised a rigorous policy of self-criticism which inevitably resulted in his withdrawing several of his early works from circulation soon after their composition. In some cases, most notably the American operetta Paul Bunyan (1941), the suppression was due to poorly received performances; but it is difficult to know exactly why Britten withdrew the seven settings of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins entitled A.M.D.G., which were never performed in the composer’s lifetime. Sketched in August 1939, shortly after Britten’s arrival in the United States, the songs were originally intended for performance by Pears’s ‘Round Table Singers’ in London during November of that year. Possibly the decision to remain in the USA for several years influenced Britten to abandon the project before he had made a fair copy of the manuscript. It was only as recently as 1984 that A.M.D.G. was given its first performance, and the work was finally published in 1989 (without its original opus number—17—which had been reallocated to Paul Bunyan when Britten revised the operetta in 1976).

The initials ‘A.M.D.G.‘ stand for a famous motto of the Jesuits (Ad maiorem Dei gloriam—‘to the greater glory of God’), a sect which Hopkins had joined in his early twenties. Several of Hopkins’s poems, including O Deus, ego amo te (set by Britten), bear this motto in their manuscripts. (None of Hopkins’s poetry appeared in print before his death in 1889, and it was not until 1918 that Robert Bridges supervised the publication of the first collected edition.) Britten’s setting of Prayer I (‘Jesu that dost in Mary dwell’) indulges in a harmonic richness absent from some of the other more frugal settings, and is followed by Rosa mystica, a ternary waltz in which parallel thirds are set against a pedal point in ostinato rhythms. God’s grandeur contains fugal elements and graphic chromatic depiction of the words ‘bleared’ and ‘smeared’. The preoccupation of Prayer II (‘Thee, God, I come from, to thee go’) is simple octave doublings, and this directness is maintained in O Deus, ego amo te, where the music consists almost entirely of root-position major triads in unmeasured speech rhythms. The interval of a third returns to dominate the march-like setting of The soldier, and the final song (Heaven- Haven) sets one of Hopkins’s earliest poems to music of the utmost simplicity.

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2001

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