No 1: Morning Hymn What's this morn's bright eye to me
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No 2: Pastoral Hymn Happy choristers of air
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No 3: Evening Hymn The night is come like to the day
In Joseph Beaumont’s ‘Morning Hymn’, the poet speaks of his determination, despite human failings, to walk in the ways of Christ. At first the music is affirmative, but a section follows in which it mirrors the struggle of the poet to find the ‘living light’ of Christ. Gradually the music, to a florid organ accompaniment, becomes increasingly jubilant, culminating in a determined melodic phrase at ‘For Thy ways cannot be shown’.
John Hall’s ‘Pastoral Hymn’ is set to nimble, airy music with a gracefully flowing organ accompaniment in triplets which are taken up by the voices in their evocation of the ‘Happy choristers of air’ wheeling around the throne of God in incessant praise. A fine example of Maw’s musical word-painting occurs when the ‘lazy snails’ are portrayed in a slithering, ponderous phrase. The carolling returns for the last verse in which the poet sees the hand of God in all creation.
The emotional weight of the work falls on ‘Evening Hymn’, a rapt setting of Sir Thomas Browne’s meditation on sleep and death. Out of a somnolent chordal cluster, created by a stepwise descent that will subsequently haunt the hymn, sopranos emerge with a tranquil melody, which is answered, chant-like by the other voices. Solos for two sopranos and alto lead to a solemn moment at ‘sleep is a death’, followed closely after by a section of two-part imitative writing. After a rich chord change at ‘sleep again’, the music rises to an emphatic climax as the poet finds assurance through faith.
from notes by Andrew Burn © 2007