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What love is this of thine?

1985; SATB unaccompanied; written for Dr Dennis Townhill in gratitude for 25 years as Organist and Master of the Choristers at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh
author of text

What love is this of thine? by the devout Puritan Edward Taylor was set by Leighton in 1985, three years before his death. The poem’s first stanza is a pair of knotted questions on the mysterious subject of the Incarnation, an attempt to untie the Gordian paradox of ‘Infinity, and finity conjoined’. What sort of love could possibly drive the Godhead to ally himself with frail flesh, marrying himself to our manhood? The answer is both joyous and terrifying: a ‘matchless love’, which fills Heaven, then the world, then hell, by which time it is an unstoppable tide of blood gushing from Christ’s veins, our blood pouring ‘through thy person’. The joy of that exclamation, ‘Oh, matchless love!’, quickly curdles to horror.

Leighton’s setting more than matches the poem in its burning intensity. This knotty text is broken up and given to different voices at different times; no single part gets the whole story. Frequently, just one voice will continue the strand of thought, which can easily be concealed by the fervour in the other lines. Saving certain lines from being drowned out in performance is a constant challenge: in What love is this of thine?, God’s elect—who appear only in the soprano and tenor melody—can easily be washed away in the ‘mighty tide’ of overflowing love.

from notes by Ted Tregear © 2015


Leighton: Crucifixus & other choral works
Studio Master: CDA68039Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Track 11 on CDA68039 [6'31]

Track-specific metadata for CDA68039 track 11

Recording date
5 July 2013
Recording venue
Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Adrian Peacock
Recording engineer
David Hinitt
Hyperion usage
  1. Leighton: Crucifixus & other choral works (CDA68039)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: April 2015
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