The anthem Lo! God is here! was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral on the occasion of their Tercentenary Celebrations in 1997. The composer has kindly supplied the following note about the work for this recording:
Finding suitable words to set can be a surprisingly time-consuming part of the process of composition. The authorities at St Paul’s made life easier for me by submitting a variety of helpful and appropriate suggestions. Of the texts offered, the hymn Lo! God is here! immediately struck me as being eminently suitable for the occasion at which the anthem was to be sung. Further research produced an extra verse not normally included in the hymn books.
Once the process of composing began in earnest, thoughts of the unique sounds of the St Paul’s choir and organ were clear in my mind. I decided not to be too constricted by the abundant resonance, but rather to make use of the warm richness of eighteen men and the bright intensity of thirty boys, as well as the kaleidoscope of colours available on the organ. It was at this stage that the idea of including a plainsong psalm came into my mind. I have always found plainsong curiously compelling, and, even more so, accompanied plainsong. For a service commemorating the dedication of a church or cathedral few texts are more appropriate than Psalm 84, whose verses are below printed in italics.
The altos, tenors and basses in unison sing the opening theme of the work. The melody and the accompanying chords are the germ ideas for the whole work. A treble soloist sings the plainsong. The way in which it introduces an element of stillness and tranquillity is intentional and contrasts with a sense of awe engendered by the first verse of the hymn. The meaning of some of the words has now changed: ‘dreadful’ in this context means ‘full of awe’—awe-full.
The material for the fast and vigorous middle section is based on the opening ideas. For much of the time the organ and choir are in dialogue with each other and the music builds inexorably towards the line ‘Disdain not, Lord, our meaner song, Who praise Thee with a stammering tongue’. The climax comes on the word ‘praise’, after which the music subsides (the word ‘stammering’ here means ‘faltering’) and leads to a return of the opening material for the last verse of the hymn, interspersed with further verses of the psalm. In this final section the roles of the choir and soloist are reversed, with the plainsong sung by the full choir in unison and the words of the hymn sung by the treble soloist.
After a brief excursion into eight-part imitative writing the work closes with a repetition of the first line of Psalm 84.
from notes by William McVicker © 1999