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This anthem was written in response to a request from the conductor of The RSCM Millennium Youth Choir, David Ogden, for a work to be used as part of a BBC Radio Three live Choral Evensong from Romsey Abbey. It was broadcast on Wednesday 30th August, 2006.
The text is considered to be the oldest hymn in modern use and was thought of as 'old' by St Basil the Great (329-379). Popular tradition has it that the martyr bishop St Athenogenes, whose saint's day is 16th July, stayed his executioner while singing this hymn, which was then passed on by his surviving disciples, ten of whom died with him by the order of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in c. 305AD.
The translation is taken from the 2005 publication Common Worship: Daily Prayer. The lively rhythmical drive and harmonic colours are inspired by both the text and the enthusiasm and skills of both conductor and voices who gave the work its first performance.
A regular sight for musicians in Romsey Abbey is a set of two solid oak wardrobes containing singers' and organist's choir robes. These wardrobes were exquisitely designed by Rod Hoyle with carvings of the text 'no noise, nor silence but one equal music: no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession'. With this constant reminder of one of the most profoundly moving prayers ever written and notwithstanding glorious settings already firmly part of the choral repertory, I put pencil to paper!
The anthem was written in 2008 for the choir Lauda and performed in Winchester Cathedral under the direction of Adrian Taylor. It contains rich, colourful harmony, with parts divided at times to give a broad tonal canvas. The iconic text drives the rhythms and creates natural climaxes and moments of peace and rest.
The text of this poem immediately catches the listener's attention with its vivid imagery and intense devotion. Published posthumously, this short work gives us a sense of the writer's mastery of the 'arresting phrase', a common thread throughout his writing.
A Jesuit priest, Hopkins died in 1889 at the early age of 44 yet became an important influence to later Victorian writers such as Robert Bridges, who published Hopkins' poems in 1918.
Written for Romsey Abbey Choir in 2013, this setting features a gentle triple metre with colourful harmonies, soaring melodies for solo soprano/treble, and a triumphant ending!
Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.
The text of this carol is taken from The Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, written by Christopher (Kit) Smart in 1765. It refers to the Ilminster Thorn Tree of local folklore, giving it a Judaic origin in the use of the term Mosaic (of Moses).
The tale goes that a pilgrim brought a thorn to the villagers from Glastonbury which he planted for them. He told them it was a thorn from The Crown of Thorns and prayed beside it constantly. The villagers thought little of it until the thorn began to grow at an uncanny rate until by Christmas Day it had become a small tree.
The pilgrim promised that the tree would bloom on Christmas Day but the day passed and nothing occurred. During the night however, the whole village was wakened by the sound of beasts and cattle making their way to the site of the thorn tree.
There they joined the pilgrim and stood silently staring at the tree, which had bloomed white and shone in the clear moonlight. At the stroke of midnight the largest bull lowed loudly and knelt on the frosty ground followed by the other animals, sheep and cattle. The villagers had followed and were in awe of the spectacle and knew then that this tree was of holy origin.
Christopher Smart (1722-1771) studied at Pembroke College Cambridge and ended up in an asylum, where he wrote some of his most moving works. He eventually died in a debtors prison in London. He is most remembered as the author of the text which Benjamin Britten drew from for his large-scale anthem Rejoice in the Lamb. Smarts favourite cat Jeffery, which he was inseparable from in the asylum, features in this work, as does his jailor!
Boreas is the Greek god of the cold North Wind and is associated with storms, winter and flooding. When Athens was threatened by Xerxes, the people prayed to Boreas, who was said to have then caused winds to sink 400 Persian ships. 'Spinks and ouzles' are types of bird, and 'box and laurels', plants.
This deeply spiritual text was written in the late 1980s by Canon Jeremy Davies, then Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral. It was created to celebrate the feast of Candlemas and uses dialogue from both Simeon's Nunc dimittis and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The music for this text was written for the choir of Romsey Abbey in 2006 and uses a melody that stands alone and is twice harmonised in a way that reflect the text. It requires sensitive handling and a prayerful interpretation. For those familiar with the cantoring style of Jeremy Davies, particularly at evensong, that is where this carol takes its inspiration.
On writing hymn texts, Jeremy Davies comments; "I started writing hymns when I came to Salisbury because (in my first year as Precentor - 1985) the cathedral was left a small sum of money on condition that some music of Sir Arthur Sullivan was performed at a service in the cathedral. The Dean (Sydney Evans), simply turned to me and said, 'Over to you Precentor'. I first went to the hymn book (in those days A&M before I changed to the English Hymnal!), and found a tune by Sullivan (Golden Sheaves I think!), for Harvest. We didn't need another harvest hymn but St Osmund's day was fast approaching and we didn't have a suitable hymn for him. And so I wrote one - my first. As a bit of a joke, I tried to write something that evoked a G&S patter song with long lines and curious rhymes. It also tried to tell the story of Osmund's life and ministry. We sang it in procession on the two feasts of St Osmund throughout my time as Precentor (26 years!). That was the beginning of a bit of a hymn writing roll."
Jeremy has subsequently had his hymn texts set to music by Richard Shephard, Barry Ferguson and Malcolm Archer.
Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907) was the great great niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and often suffered from the influence of the Coleridge name in a negative male-dominated literary heritage, yet produced many positive, original and unconventional works. This short poem pinpoints the nature of the Incarnation using very few words.
Written in 2002 for use in Romsey Abbey when the choir paused in procession to reverence the crib, this simple carol begins and ends with a solo treble or soprano voice, and reflects the awe and mystery of the incarnate Christ-child.
© Chichester Music Press
Written for the choir of Romsey Abbey in 2005, this carol uses a simple French traditional melody from the Auvergne region. The English translation is by the celebrated hymn writer Fred Pratt Green. The charming melody is adorned by a colourful organ part that reflects the joy and wonder of those assembled to witness the incarnate child-God and the festive ending explodes in a paean of praise!
The text of this carol is the third sonnet of a larger work by John Donne (1572-1631), La Corona (1610), a meditation on the life and ministry of Christ. The depth in Donne's metaphysical writing can be hidden when reading for the first time. Singing these words to music can provide both singers and listeners with an opportunity to become familiar with this text, and opens a way in to processing Donne's carefully-crafted message about the human and the divine aspects of the incarnation.
This anthem was written in 1988 and was commissioned by Ian Hare who wanted a piece for a concert he was to conduct given by The Lancaster Singers of which he was Director of Music. At this time, Ian was my supervisor at Lancaster University for an MPhil degree dealing with writing music to be sung by congregations. Influenced by the writing for organ and choir by Benjamin Britten, the quirky text comes in useful at Harvest time or celebrations of creation in all its colour and variety of species.
At a time when the wellbeing of our globe seems to be increasingly at risk due to climate change, giving thanks to God for what we have and what Hopkins so wonderfully describes in his panoply of imagery seems appropriate.
The millennium seemed as good a time as any to compose a setting of the evening canticles. I also needed a new composition for a choral course that I was directing the following Easter in Salisbury Cathedral. The setting begins in Bb minor but very definitely ends in Gb major. A meaty organ part which uses a colourful array of sounds contrasts with choral solos, polyphony and homophonic sections. I hope I have used a style that reflects the familiar texts, gives joy to both singers and organists and provides a medium for worship at that wonderfully atmospheric service, choral evensong.