Hyperion Records

One foot in Eden still, I stand
Maw’s motet One foot in Eden still, I stand (1990) is a setting of the Scottish poet Edwin Muir which Maw discovered in The New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250–1950. It was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the college and first performed by King’s College Choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, in King’s College chapel on 18 September 1990. Scored for mixed choir and soloists, as well as optional organ (omitted on this recording), it demonstrates a composer in total command of his medium and is impressive in its varied choral writing and striking use of harmony and melody in response to the text.

Muir’s poetry is riven with the recurring image of mankind’s Fall in the Garden of Eden, and the subsequent loss of innocence. From his personal perspective, his own enactment of the Fall took place when, after an idyllic Orkney childhood, he moved with his family at the age of fourteen to the urban ‘Hell’ of Glasgow; it was a change that proved traumatic for him. In this poem Muir posits the view that mankind’s acquisition of knowledge at the Fall brought evil but also good so that ‘nothing now can separate / The corn and tares compactly grown’.

The peaceful opening for the solo quartet, almost chanted like a prayer, is exquisite in its serene beauty and is quietly answered by the full choir in unison. This alternation of voices sets much of the pattern for the work. A melody with expressive leaps for the sopranos is taken up by the tenor solo, before a climax occurs at ‘Evil and good stand thick around’. The first section ends with a hushed, lush cadence at ‘lead our harvest in’, out of which the music of the opening is magically recalled by the quartet.

A memorable, agitated musical image occurs at the words ‘Scattered along the winter way’ and a solo for the alto takes up the jagged rhythm of ‘scattered’. The music rises to an intense climax at the crux of the poem ‘What had Eden ever to say / Of hope and faith and pity and love’ and again at ‘buried all its day’. Only at the very end of the poem is a resolution achieved, as reflected in the concord of the music in the final bars.

from notes by Andrew Burn 2007

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