Evening Psalms

Programme Note

The compositional process of Evening Psalms was a gradual one, taking place over a number of years. Completed in 2019 for a recording with Delphian Records, it began in 2014 in response to a commission from my old school, Malvern College, who asked me to write a piece to celebrate its 150th birthday. The request was for a setting of Psalm 121, which famously begins ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills’; in this particular context, then, the hills in question are the Malverns. In my setting of the psalm, a heavily ornamented soprano solo line is offset by placid sustained chords in the choir.

Setting famous texts such as Psalm 121 is something I have enjoyed, and my Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, is another example. There are already many well-known settings of Psalm 23, and I find it stimulating to engage with them as a composer, giving me the opportunity to situate myself with reference to that tradition, accepting certain aspects of it while reinventing others. My setting of Psalm 23 is an example of the layering technique to be found in several of my pieces. Here, the outer sections feature extremely calm music in the choir set against much livelier writing for the organ. The effect is to create tension, bringing to the fore the hint of uncertainty that I think is inherent in the text.

The three other psalms included in Evening Psalms are much less well known. The text of Psalm 67 is jubilant, and invites a relatively straightforward musical setting, albeit one with a significantly virtuosic organ solo between the two main sections. My rendering in music of Psalm 117 is something of a musical joke. Psalm 117 is the shortest of the 150 psalms, containing only two verses. I set the text at a very fast pace, in order to emphasise the extreme brevity of the psalm. The only exception to this approach is the word ‘endureth’, which is set repeatedly and in a sustained manner, and which itself endures for significantly more than half the length of the psalm setting. Psalm 59, chosen for its references to making a noise like a dog, constitutes a dramatic finale to the cycle.

Year: 2019
Duration: 18′
Instrumentation: SATB, Organ
Commission: Psalm 121 was commissioned by Malvern College to celebrate the school’s 150th anniversary

1 – Psalm 121
2 – Psalm 67
3 – Psalm 23
4 – Psalm 117
5 – Psalm 59

Media

Recording with The Chapel Choir of King’s College London conducted by Joseph Fort forthcoming on Delphian Records.

Performances

19th October 2021
The Choir of King’s College London, Joseph Fort (Conductor)
The Chapel, King’s College London (Psalm 67)

21st January 2020
The Choir of King’s College London, Edward Elwyn Jones (Conductor)
The Chapel, King’s College London (Psalm 67)

30th January 2015
Malvern College Chamber Choir, Jonathan Brown (Conductor)
Malvern Priory (Psalm 121)