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Three Hymns

First line:
What's this morn's bright eye to me
13 March 1989

The Three Hymns (1989) were commissioned by the Lichfield Festival and were first performed by the Choir of Lichfield Cathedral, conducted by Jonathan Rees-Williams, on 9 July 1989. Maw found the texts in the Oxford Book of Christian Verse and was attracted to them first by their quality, but also because they all belonged to the seventeenth century and thus provided a textural unity. Throughout the organ is prominent and shares the development of ideas with the voices.

In Joseph Beaumont’s ‘Morning Hymn’, the poet speaks of his determination, despite human failings, to walk in the ways of Christ. At first the music is affirmative, but a section follows in which it mirrors the struggle of the poet to find the ‘living light’ of Christ. Gradually the music, to a florid organ accompaniment, becomes increasingly jubilant, culminating in a determined melodic phrase at ‘For Thy ways cannot be shown’.

John Hall’s ‘Pastoral Hymn’ is set to nimble, airy music with a gracefully flowing organ accompaniment in triplets which are taken up by the voices in their evocation of the ‘Happy choristers of air’ wheeling around the throne of God in incessant praise. A fine example of Maw’s musical word-painting occurs when the ‘lazy snails’ are portrayed in a slithering, ponderous phrase. The carolling returns for the last verse in which the poet sees the hand of God in all creation.

The emotional weight of the work falls on ‘Evening Hymn’, a rapt setting of Sir Thomas Browne’s meditation on sleep and death. Out of a somnolent chordal cluster, created by a stepwise descent that will subsequently haunt the hymn, sopranos emerge with a tranquil melody, which is answered, chant-like by the other voices. Solos for two sopranos and alto lead to a solemn moment at ‘sleep is a death’, followed closely after by a section of two-part imitative writing. After a rich chord change at ‘sleep again’, the music rises to an emphatic climax as the poet finds assurance through faith.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2007


Maw: One foot in Eden still, I stand & other choral works
CDA67615Archive Service


No 1: Morning Hymn  What's this morn's bright eye to me
author of text

Track 1 on CDA67615 [2'56] Archive Service
No 2: Pastoral Hymn  Happy choristers of air
author of text

Track 2 on CDA67615 [2'17] Archive Service
No 3: Evening Hymn  The night is come like to the day
author of text

Track 3 on CDA67615 [7'53] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDA67615 track 1

Morning Hymn
Recording date
14 March 2000
Recording venue
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Nick Flower
Recording engineer
Mike Skeet
Hyperion usage
  1. Maw: One foot in Eden still, I stand & other choral works (CDA67615)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: January 2007
    Deletion date: October 2021
    Archive Service
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