Francis Pott’s My song is love unknown
sets all of Samuel Crossman’s famous verses but one (commonly omitted when the poem is sung metrically as a hymn). The music begins with offbeat repeated chords prompted—not inappropriately—by the opening to Richard Strauss’s tone poem, Death and transfiguration
. In its early stages only trebles and altos are heard. The sequential flow of Crossman’s poem is soon disrupted with particular dramatic ends in mind. After a seemingly anxious harmonic distortion of the opening chords, the word ‘crucify’ arises initially as a mere mutter from the lower voices, so timed as to afford assonance with other words in the upper parts and thus remain barely discernible, as if only imagined. In due course, however, cries of ‘Hosanna’ find themselves on a collision course with a rising tide of ‘Crucify’, during which the ‘Hosanna’ faction gradually loses heart and, sheep-like, defects until a single treble voice—plaintively daring to repeat the ‘offending’ word—is swept aside by a murderous outcry. In due course ‘Crucify’ recurs as a further angry climax before the opening music returns, this time expanding into an extended polyphonic final section for double choir and SATB soloists. The principal climax of the work subsides into a form of epilogue, crowned sorrowfully by a treble soloist to whom the music in toto has by now presented many challenges. The anthem ends in the key and mood of its opening. The character of its demanding organ part reflects the possibility that it may one day be orchestrated.
My song is love unknown was composed in memory of Michael Renton, a craftsman and largely self-taught ‘Renaissance’ man who was not only a member of the Winchester cathedral congregation but also the cathedral’s stonemason. He was beloved of many in the Cathedral community; a true and humble artist, of whose rare order Traherne surely spoke when he wrote: ‘Whosoever will profit in the mystery of Felicity, must see the objects of his happiness, and the manner how they are to be enjoyed, and discern also the powers of his soul by which he is to enjoy them’. My song is love unknown was written for the Southern Cathedrals Festival in Winchester 2002.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2002