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The five songs of praise to God take various texts by some of my favourite hymn writers and poets and mould them into one, continuous, devotional anthem. The structure of the cycle is arch-like in design with the two outer movements sharing similar musical material; movements two and four sharing similar material, and the third, central movement reflecting upon material used in all five movements. In fact, the third movement is the emotional heart of the work setting Geoffrey Rowell’s powerful Eucharistic hymn of Christ’s love and sacrifice in a slow, meditative and all-encircling manner.
The compositional inspiration for the entire cycle is that of ‘change ringing’ or, more specifically, the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns, as we find in churches and cathedrals throughout the world. This musical motif, often a call to prayer in most Christian countries, is explored in many different ways throughout my cycle with the voices themselves becoming the change-ringing bells in the fourth movement and, the inner, most intimate sound of the bell explored through the use of the Tibetan singing bowl, in the second movement with the voices actually becoming the ‘harmonics’ of the bell.
The poetry of the 18th-century mystic, Christopher Smart has long been an inspiration for me and, rather unusually, I have chosen to set two extracts from his glorious poem, ‘A Song to David’ as ‘meditations’ upon spirituality as the two central movements here. Smart’s poetry is cluttered with powerful and colourful images; though, in my selections, I have tried to focus on two recurring images—that of God’s beautiful creation, the earth and, his redeeming light given to us through the birth of Christ. For me, these images strike at the very heart of Smart’s work and offer moments of reflection within my own choral cycle.
Praise is a celebration and was composed as a as a kind of companion piece to Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and to celebrate Britten’s centenary year of 2013.
Praise was commissioned and is dedicated to Dr Ralph Allwood MBE & The Rodolfus Choir and was premiered by them on their tour of Oxford and Douai Abbey between 28th December 2012 and 5th January 2013.
from notes by Paul Mealor © 2013
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