In 1947 Leighton went up to Queen’s College in Oxford with a Hastings Scholarship in Classics, and it was in this discipline that he graduated in 1951. He also studied for a Bmus with Bernard Rose and graduated in the same year. After the Second World War, many young British composers sought enlightenment in new techniques of composition by going to study abroad in order to free themselves of what Leighton himself described as a ‘narrowly British’ background. A Mendelssohn Scholarship enabled him to go to study with Petrassi in Rome—a natural focal point for a Classics scholar.
Leighton was showered with prizes from his early twenties: the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize, the George Butterworth Award, the Harry Danks Prize, the coveted Busoni Prize, the City of Trieste Prize, the Bernhard Sprengel Prize, the Cobbett medal for his distinguished services to chamber music, and the National Federation of Music Societies Prize. In 1970 Oxford University awarded him the Doctorate in Music. Further accolades followed in 1977 with the award of Honorary Doctor of the University of St Andrews and, in 1982, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Music.
The anthem Give me the wings of faith was commissioned for the Patronal Festival of St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, in June 1962. It is a setting of words by Watts and is scored for two soloists—treble (here sung tutti) and baritone—choir and organ. Written in his gritty quasi-serial style, Leighton hints at the powerful effects he obtained in his impressive large-scale choral and organ works: the crescendo which ensues from the words ‘They wrestled hard’ rises above eleven of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale which stride out in the pedals. As the baritone solo unfolds, the pedals once again creep slowly downwards—an effect which continues as the chorus re-enters and leads majestically to the final section which the choir sings in unison as the organ winds its contrapuntal way to the to the close.
from notes by William McVicker © 1999
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