SATB soli, SATB/SATB and organ
Duration: ca 17'30"
This work was commissioned for the 2002 Southern Cathedrals Festival
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This work is on world release on Signum Records SIGCD 501, in a performance by Tenebrae under Nigel Short, with Jeremy Filsell, organ.
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My Song is Love Unknown Francis Pott [b.1957]
[Text: Samuel Crossman, 1624-1683]
Anthem for SATB soloists, double chorus and organ.
This anthem was written for the Southern Cathedrals Festival held in Winchester during the Summer of 2002, the last such event conducted by David Hill within his tenure as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Winchester Cathedral. The music sets all of Samuel Crossman's verses but one (commonly omitted when the poem is sung metrically as a hymn). The music begins with offbeat repeated chords prompted - not inappropriately - by the opening to Richard Strauss's tone poem, Death and Transfiguration. In its early stages only trebles and altos are heard. The sequential flow of Crossman's poem is soon disrupted with particular dramatic ends in mind. After a seemingly anxious harmonic distortion of the opening chords, the word 'crucify' arises initially as a mere mutter from the lower voices, so timed as to afford assonance with other words in the upper parts and thus remain barely discernible, as if only imagined. In due course, however, cries of 'Hosanna' find themselves on a collision course with a rising tide of 'Crucify', during which the 'Hosanna' faction gradually loses heart and, sheep-like, defects until a single treble voice - plaintively daring to repeat the 'offending' word - is swept aside by a murdrous outcry.
In due course, 'Crucify' recurs as a further angry climax before the opening music returns, this time expanding into an extended polyphonic Epilogue for double choir and SATB soloists. Imitative polyphony is kept to a minimum prior to this point, in order for the Epilogue to convey a kind of contemplative flowering, and for a moral conclusion in the text to be mirrored by the point or period of greatest textural weight and substance in the span of the music. The idea was informed by a visual metaphor of comparable intent: many cathedral buildings achieve it in the'counterpoint' of rose window (light) and nave or transept (solid permanence), while the restored Burgundian Basilica of the Madeleine at Vézelay in France memorably vindicates a deliberate parsimony with daylight in its Romanesque nave by positively flooding its Gothic choir and high altar through clear glass.
The extended principal climax of My Song is Love Unknown subsides into a hushed, wordless chorus meditation, crowned sorrowfully by reiteration of the final verse from a soprano soloist to whom the work has by now presented many challenges. The anthem ends in the key and mood of its opening. The character of its demanding organ part reflects the possibility that it might one day be orchestrated.
My Song is Love Unknown was composed in memory of the designer, engraver, and lettering craftsman, Michael Renton (1934-2001), who had been intimately connected with maintenance of the fabric of Winchester Cathedral since 1994, and who had become a much-loved figure within its community.
Renton is remembered still as a true and humble artist, whose rare order the 17th-century mystic Thomas Traherne surely included when he write that 'whosoever will profit in the mystery of Felicity, must see the objects of his happiness, and the manner how they are to be enjoyed, and discern also the powers of his soul by which he is to enjoy them'.
I have, however, deliberately left to last the piece which has made the greatest impact on me. This is the other offering from Francis Pott, The souls of the righteous Pott has perfectly realised the serenity and consolation conveyed in these lines and has constructed a truly beautiful piece of choral music… Sustains the mood of subdued ecstasy right through to the seraphic concluding Amen. An exceptional piece.
International Record Review,
Classical News, 2003
Classic FM Magazine, 2003
BBC Music Magazine,