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Sequence for All Saints, Op 75

1978; commissioned by West Riding Cathedral Festival; first performed in Wakefield Cathedral by Wakefield, Bradford and Sheffield Cathedral choirs under Jonathan Bielby on 14 October 1978
author of text
Sequence for the Feast of All Saints, English Hymnal 731
author of text
Give me the wings of faith in Finale; tune is Gibbons Song 67

Leighton always enjoyed writing for a specific performance or particular musicians; consequently, composing Sequence for All Saints, a commission from the West Riding Cathedral Festival, must have given him particular pleasure. Not only was the Wakefield Cathedral Choir participating in the premiere (together with the choirs of Sheffield and Bradford cathedrals), but also All Souls is the dedication of Wakefield Cathedral. In addition Leighton’s old cathedral was the setting for the first performance, on 14 October 1978 conducted by Jonathan Bielby.

The text, taken from The English Hymnal, is a medieval plainsong Sequence (an addition to the liturgy that was sung during Mass after the Alleluia, usually on feast days) for the Feast of All Saints (1 November). Whilst composing the work Leighton confided to his wife that he did not find it easy composing a text that related to death; nevertheless the result is a marvellously consolatory work which is cast in a continuous span of five sections.

The Introit begins with the choir softly intoning the word ‘Gaudeamus’, which blossoms lyrically before bursting into a choral fanfare. A flamboyant, quasi-improvisatory organ solo provides a link to a fast rhythmic section that rises to a climax at ‘in honour of All Saints’. It fades with hushed awe at the ‘Son of God’, before the opening ‘Gaudeamus’ returns.

The baritone’s sombre exhortation to ‘fear the Lord’ opens the Gradual, soon joined by lilting soprano ‘Alleluias’. As the other voices are gradually added to the texture the music gathers momentum until they chime ‘Alleluia’ together, and a brief organ postlude leads to the Offertory. Here, to quietly throbbing chords, the trebles’ serene melody expresses the wonder of God, and concludes with a caressing cadence, as the voices enter by imitation and a solo treble voice floats tranquilly above.

With the Communion a profound sense of mystery is reached. An ornate organ solo sets the mood of solemnity with the baritone joining in to meditate on the peace the ‘souls of the righteous’ will obtain after death. The choir voices steal in, and in an unaccompanied passage with intense harmony the music rises to a fervent climax, only to die away for a cadence of balm.

Initially the Finale hearkens back to the opening of the sequence, before erupting into a paean of praise, as the music adopts a celebratory character heightened by the syncopated rhythmic organ accompaniment. After a climactic ‘Alleluia’, the semi-chorus starts singing Issac Watts’s hymn ‘Give me the wings of faith’, set to a melody by Orlando Gibbons clothed in the harmony of the Scottish metrical tune No 67, and with the rest of the choir adding uplifting ‘Alleluias’. Finally the moment of grandeur arrives as in conclusion the congregation sings the hymn.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2008


Leighton: The World's Desire & other choral works


Movement 1: Introit  Gaudeamus. Rejoice we all and praise the Lord
Track 1 on CDA67641 [4'20]
Movement 2: Gradual  O fear the Lord, all ye saints of his
Track 2 on CDA67641 [3'27]
Movement 3: Offertory  O God, wonderful art thou in thy holy places
Track 3 on CDA67641 [3'03]
Movement 4: Communion  The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God
Track 4 on CDA67641 [7'25]
Movement 5: Finale  Gaudeamus. Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous
Track 5 on CDA67641 [6'02]

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