Thy voice, o Harmony, is divine (2009)

A cappella SSATB
Commissioned by Magdalen College School, Oxford

First performance 3 July, 2009  |  The Choir of Magdalen College School  |  Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

Commissioned in the year of Haydn’s bi-centenary to celebrate his visit to Oxford.

Thy voice, o Harmony, is divine was commissioned by Magdalen College School to celebrate the Bicentenary of Haydn’s death and the composer’s association with Oxford. It was first performed on 1 July 2009 by the Oxford Sixth Choir, conductor Jon Cullen, in the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford as part of the MCS Arts Festival. Also performed at the same concert were works by Handel and Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mass) by the Hanover Band, conductor Paul Brough.
The London premiere was given by the Esterhazy Singers, conductor Esther Jones, on 4 November 2009 at St Giles Cripplegate, Barbican, London.

This work is inspired by a little piece written by Haydn for the award ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre at which he received his honorary doctorate from Oxford University. Haydn’s Canzone à tre was composed as a round in a clever setting of the words, Thy voice, o Harmony, is divine, which could be turned upside down and sung backwards, simultaneously. The words are attributed to the Haydn.

The phrase shapes of this motet, Thy voice, o Harmony, is divine, derive in some way from Haydn’s Canzone, unfolding and overlapping between the voices. The central section presents a homophonic reference to the Haydn’s round with text and notes set in palindromic fashion. The conclusion of the motet dissolves into repeated, lingering phrases which melt into the air. The text is taken from the Haydn Canzone.

Lo! He slumbers in his manger (2019)

Text: Watts’ Carol
Unaccompanied SATB
Duration: 3’
Oxford University Press

First performance 14 December 2019 | St Albans Choral Society, conductor George Vass

Marlborough Road Methodist Church, St Albans, UK

Brightest Star (2019)

Text: Seán Street | Sir Alexander Coutanche

Unaccompanied SSATB
Duration: 4′
Oxford University Press
Commissioned by IFAC for the 9th International Competition for Young Conductors

organised in collaboration with ECA-EC,

First performance 20 October 2019 in Paris | Le Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris.
Le Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris, France

Programme note:

2019 marks the centenary of the remarkable humanitarian aid institution, the Internationl Red Cross. To commemorate the extraordinary achievements of this charity I asked the British poet, Seán Street, to create a poem around a particular set of circumstances in 1944. From June 1940 until liberation in May 1945 the Channel Islands were occupied by German Armed Forces. In August 1944 the Bailiff of Jersey, Sir Alexander Coutanche, asked permission of the German authorities to contact the IRC to beg for help as the islanders were on the brink of starvation. The IRC ship, the Vega (brightest star), came to the Channel Islands after Christmas in 1944, bringing food parcels, medical supplies and so much more. The Vega made six more visits to the Islands before VE Day.

The opening of Brightest Star underlines the bleak conditions on the Islands that year; dissonant harmony, downward sliding phrases. The pace is steady but underscored by a certain urgency, always driving onwards. Extracts from the Bailiff’s letter, sung by the men of the choir, draw attention to the gravity of the situation.  In contrast the upper voices bring an ethereal quality to the texture, one of hope perhaps. Towards the close of this setting the sopranos and altos sing phrases suggestive of the lovely traditional French Christmas carol, Les anges dans nos campagnes, better known in English as Angels from the realms of glory. 

Brightest Star has been commissioned by IFAC for the 9th International Competition for Young Conductors organised in collaboration with the European Choral Association – Europa Cantat and first performed on 20th October 2019 by le Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris.

Brightest Star

Advent in nineteen forty four came cold,
when Coutanche the Bailiff wrote a letter from the dark:
Message to the Protecting Power
Essential drugs now exhausted.
Butter exhausted, soap exhausted.
No gas since September.
Electricity will fail mid-January
Wood inadequate. No matches.

They waited for answers, for the seawash static
broken by song in the deep lake of war.
Then Vega, brightest star in the blackest night
came through tides like a red-winged bird in flight
and with humanity towards peace shone light,
Vega, season’s star, angel in flight,
for what is Christmas without angels in the night?
For what is Epiphany but new hope’s light?

Seán Street

Quotes from Sir Alexander Coutanche, Bailiff of Jersey, and the motto of the International Red Cross

The skies in their magnificence (2008)

Text: Thomas Traherne
Duration: 5′
Gemini Publications
Commissioned by English Music Festival
First performance 27 May 2008 | The London Chorus/Ron Corp | Dorchester Abbey

Programme note

Link to Score:

Link to recording:

The Loving Memory (2016)

SATB & organ
Text: Seán Street
Duration: 4′
Oxford University Press
Commissioned by Magdelen College School for the Commeroration of Benefactors
First performance 2 July 2016 | University Church, Oxford, UK | Jon Cullen, conductor

This joyous, upbeat anthem sets a compelling poem by contemporary poet Seán Street in response to a text by sixteenth-century Bishop of Norwich John Parkhurst on the subject of ‘alma mater’.

Programme note

Review available

Link to Score:

Link to recording:

The Presence (2016)

SSAATTBB unaccompanied
Text: Various Psalms
Duration: 5′
Oxford University Press
Commissioned by Helen Godfrey in memory of her parents, Bishop Reginald Foskett, formerly Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, and Mrs Daphne Foskett, for Duncan Ferguson and the Choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh

First performance 27 November 2016 | Choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh | Duncan Ferguson, conductor

Programme note

Link to Score:

Link to recording: