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Mysterium Christi

First line:
One of the crowd went up
author of text

The inspiration to use the poetry of nineteenth-century poet Alice Meynell (1847-1922) in Mysterium Christi came initially from the Dean of Windsor, the Very Revd David Conner (a co-dedicatee of the piece), who based a sermon in St George's Chapel in June 2004 on her poem 'The Unknown God'.

The poet finds herself in church, observing a stranger approach the altar rail, receive communion and return to his place to pray. David Conner, in his sermon, spoke of Meynell's vision of Christ within another human being, in a neighbour, a stranger or a friend. Through this particular stranger, the poet recognizes Christ's presence and perceives within him, humanity's struggle for spiritual liberation. He represents the locus found in us all of Christ's struggle to be born within us: the identity of the human spirit straining for expression and release.

For Meynell, the stranger becomes a source of blessing: 'From that secret place, And from that separate dwelling, give me grace!', seen, no less than the eucharistic bread and wine so recently consumed, as a means of grace and a sacramental presence. The poem awakens an acknowledgement that all people through whom Christ struggles for expression are the means by which a healing, restorative and redeeming power can be mediated. Even the stranger here forms the channel through which a profound sense of human solidarity is communicated and shared.

The musical setting opens in mysterious dissonance, a strong sense of tonality only emerging at the first appearance of the motto chordal idea 'O Christ in this man's life'. The second verse is set in animated fashion with the organ's toccata figurations underpinning fugal and syncopated vocal writing above. The gathered momentum is suddenly interrupted by verse 3's harmonic stasis and the motto idea returns at 'Christ in his unknown heart' (verse 4). The evocations successively of 'battle' and 'peace' in the fourth verse are set in musically characteristic antithesis before an affirmatory passage incorporates the motto chordal idea once again (verse 5). The predominantly rhythmic countenance of this music dissipates to recall the earlier-heard tri-tonal falling 'peace' phrase ('Christ in his mystery') and a coda recalls both the atmosphere and music of the opening.

from notes by Jeremy Filsell © 2005


Anthems for the 21st century
SIGCD059Download only


Track 4 on SIGCD059 [6'22] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD059 track 4

Recording date
20 February 2005
Recording venue
Tonbridge School Chapel, Kent, United Kingdom
Recording producer
John H West
Recording engineer
Limo Hearn
Hyperion usage
  1. Anthems for the 21st century (SIGCD059)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: May 2005
    Download only
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