Copland’s Four Motets for a cappella chorus were completed in 1921 during his student days in Paris. They were first heard publicly in performances in 1924 in Fountainebleau, conducted by Melville Smith and Nadia Boulanger. Copland reluctantly agreed to their publication some fifty years later, deeming them to be of curiosity value. ‘Perhaps people want to know what I was doing as a student. The style is not really yet mine,’ wrote the self-critical composer. Yet the beautifully French-flavoured ‘Help us, O Lord’, the rousing primitivism of ‘Thou, O Jehova, abideth forever’, the sumptuous harmonies of ‘Have mercy on us, O my Lord’ and the free-flowing jubilation of ‘Sing ye praises to our king’, are undoubted foretastes of the fast developing musical genius.
from notes by Ken Walton © 2000