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author of text

Hierusalem was written in the composer’s old age but isn’t an old man’s music. Remarkably, Dyson’s music grew younger as the years advanced. The cantata Sweet Thames, run softly (after Spenser) has a distinctly youthful sensuousness, and Hierusalem a childlike aura of unsophisticated mysticism. The Heavenly Jerusalem was originally a poem of sixteenth-century origin derived both from the Meditations of St Augustine and St Peter Damian’s De Gloria Paradisi. It perceives the Heavenly City much as would a child in the Wordsworthian sense – that is, with eyes unclouded and uncorroded by consciousness, by the curses of civilisation. The Celestial City first appears as a mirage (string quartet and tutti strings). The mists disperse: the soprano solo, pentatonically inclined (the pentatonic or five-note scale has ageless connotations of innocence) contrasts the beatific vision (pre-consciousness) with the yearning ache of the here-and-now. In a later passage the dream-ecstasy is shattered only in a last-line-of-stanza:

Thy tiles are made of beaten gold –
O God that I were there!

The solo soprano, in fact, is symbolic of the human longing (one solo voice) for release into the transcendent (choir), of the individual’s desire to be absorbed into the cosmos. Her burden is always the same (‘Thy joys when shall I see?’) though always differently expressed musically, and the incidence of these stanzas of yearning is a factor Dyson puts to skilful use in avoiding stanzaic uniformity in his setting. Another is realizing the dramatic implications of the text in a way that in no way damages or deadens its spiritual resonance. A procession of pilgrims approaches from afar to repeated sighing phrases in the string quartet; the precious stones glint and glitter (harp arpeggios and spiky string semiquavers). The flood of life flows through the streets in ever-increasing jubilation until finally the gates are flung wide in a sunburst of sound – harp glissandi and repeated ecstatic cries of ‘Hierusalem!’ Now the picture begins to glow in rainbow hues (‘Thy saints are crowned with glory great’) and as the company of heaven is numbered in terms of child-like candour the music assumes as almost Pre-Raphaelite quality of chastely sensuous sweetness. It is a telling stroke (and typical of Dyson the dramatist) when the soprano’s entreating cries of ‘Hierusalem’ are ringingly echoed through the streets by the heavenly hosts (with full organ, here heard as such for the first and only time). Gradually the mists of the opening close in again, and the soprano has a last word as she soars up to her top B, then down, to end on a note of quiet rapture.

Hierusalem was composed in 1956 for Harold Darke and the St Michael’s Singers; the soprano at the first performance was Isobel Baillie. So it is appropriate that the performers on this recording should be the present-day St Michael’s Singers under Dr Darke’s latter-day successor, Jonathan Rennert. The somewhat distant choral perspective, rendered inevitable both in performance and recording by the acoustic disposition of the forces and by the density of the accompanimental texture, is clearly intentional on the part of the composer. He wants us to hear the chorus as literally heavenly, not of-the-earth.

from notes by Christopher Palmer © 1985


Dyson: Hierusalem & other choral works
CDH55046Archive Service


Track 9 on CDH55046 [19'00] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDH55046 track 9

Recording date
12 March 1984
Recording venue
St Mary Magdalene, Paddington, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Christopher Palmer
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Dyson: Hierusalem (CDA66150)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: February 1990
    Deletion date: September 2001
    Superseded by CDH55046
  2. Dyson: Hierusalem & other choral works (CDH55046)
    Disc 1 Track 9
    Release date: September 2001
    Deletion date: April 2011
    Archive Service
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