Bring us, O Lord God - Charles H. Giffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,744
    Note (7 October 2021): The previous scrolling score YouTube video has been replaced by the final version, also revoiced as counter-tenor (or soprano), alto, tenor, baritone, bass.

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    Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
            into the house and gate of Heaven:
    to enter into that gate
            and dwell in that house,
        where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
                but one equal light;
        no noise nor silence,
                but one equal music;
        no fears nor hopes,
                but one equal possession;
        no ends nor beginnings,
                but one equal eternity;
    in the habitations of thy Majesty and Glory,
            world without end. Amen.

    This prayer, generally ascribed to John Donne, is actually an adaptation by Eric Milner-White from the concluding words of a sermon (CXLVII) preached by Donne on February 29, 1628 at Whitehall:
    So then this death is a sleepe, as it delivers us to a present Rest; And then, lastly, it is so also as it promises a future waking in a glorious Resurrection. To the wicked it is far from both: Of them God sayes, I will make them drunke, and they shall sleepe a perpetuall sleepe and not awake; They shall have no part in the Second Resurrection. But for them that have slept in Christ, as Christ sayd of Lazarus, Lazarus sleepeth, but I goe that I may wake him out of sleep, he shall say to his father; Let me goe that I may wake them who have slept so long in expectation of my coming: And Those that sleep in Jesus Christ (saith the Apostle) will God bring with him; not only fetch them out of the dust when he comes, but bring them with him, that is, declare that they have beene in his hands ever since they departed out of this world. They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkenesse nor dazzling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood.

    This prayer has become a vehicle for several musical settings, by more than a dozen composers, most notably William Henry Harris whose 1959 setting for unaccompanied double choir stands as one of the great masterpieces of choral literature and is widely available in several excellent video recordings. So it should come as little surprise that for several reasons and after much thought, I have also waded into the company of those composing a choral setting of this text. Other than a decades long interest in the poetry of John Donne and my deep affinity for the Harris setting, a pivotal factor in this decision came when I recalled that @kevinf had posted this prayer in another thread here at the forum shortly after the death of my son Alexander a year and a half ago. And the choice of five-voices (ATBarBB or CtATBarB) for the original (F major) setting was prompted by the excellence of the five singers of Ensemble Nobiles (based in Leipzig, Germany), who have previously sung two of my works (with videos posted to YouTube); indeed, they have graciously undertaken to tackle this new work. Other than including descants (as an obbligato fifth voice) to several hymns which I've composed, I've never before attempted to compose for five voices, especially as a cohesive ensemble, so this proved an interesting and fulfilling endeavor. The result is satisfying enough to me that, in addition to the original F major setting, I've also prepared transposed editions in E-flat major, G major (voiced as SATBarB), and B-flat major (voiced as SMzATB); however, the F and E-flat major versions "feel" better to me than the higher pitched versions.

    As to the structure of the piece, the first phrase serves essentially as an invitation or plea that we might at our last awakening (at the end of life) indeed enter the house and gate of heaven - and (in the second phrase) there enter the gate and dwell in that house. What comes next textually is the description of four pairs of opposites that will not be found in that house, but instead each will be replaced or reconciled there in a different, just, godly - "equal" - way. What follows is a conclusion to all these thoughts that flows from the initial first two phrases - "in the habitations of thy majesty and glory ..." - and is thus set to the opening music of the first phrase, thus enclosing those four paired opposites and their equal reconciliations, with four-fold Amens adding a calm symbolic "so be it" to those four equalities. And, just as the music of the middle section of equalities exploits some striking harmonic progressions, the sequence of Amens also displays a comforting peaceful harmonic piquancy.

    Quite by accident, the middle voice (baritone) of the F major original version contains an interesting note-spelling in m.11 (German nomenclature). Also, the sharped fourth degree of a major chord occurs (intentionally) in at least three places - in the top voice in m.28 (at "eternity"), the middle voice in m.38, and the top voice in the penultimate measure m.41, resolving in the final measure to the fifth degree (dominant). Some may find the chord on "-ling" of "dazzling" a little unusual, since the bottom three voices are a second inversion triad (a 6-4 chord): the missing fundamental can still be clearly heard as a resultant, though, perhaps due to the added presence of the top two voices.

    The (final version) PDF score and MP3 sound file are also attached.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,074
    Another musical masterpiece wrought with the work of yet another of the 'metaphysical' poets of the Anglican XVIIth century.

    Though I have already sent you my remarks by e-mail I will state again, here, that I have found this to be a profoundly moving work - the bonding of text and music is beautifully crafted. Also, the daring modulations at peak moments of the text guide us, even inspire the listeners to almost visionary realms. Contributing to this marriage is the five voiced treatment, which hearkens to the multi-voiced richness of renaissance examples. A five-voiced work such as this is a refreshing adventure from that tyranny of mere SATB writing which became the norm sometime in the XVIIth century.
    The original low voiced treatment is far more effective than the others.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen m_r_taylor
  • m_r_taylor
    Posts: 242
    So lovely! This may inspire me to take up 5-voice myself. You make wonderful use of the added opportunities for richness!

    If a church ensemble lacks a singer with a solid low F I daresay they could easily enough push the pitch up themselves if they wanted - let the key remain as written!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 912
    I'm curious, Chuck—do you find you receive more engagement and interest in your simpler works or in your more intricate masterworks like this? Definitely on my list to perform.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,744
    Jackson, I very much appreciate your remarks, both here and in the email you sent me. To a certain extent, the rather longish description and explanation above was motivated by your sentient comments to me.

    Schönbergian, I also appreciate your kind words a lot. As to your curiosity, I'm not quite sure which is the case. I think that, by and large, my hymn compositions do not get as much real interest, simply because new hymns do not tend to be what people look for (and consequently do not get to sing/hear) - a few notable exceptions are "Let Thy Blood in Mercy Poured" [RASMUS], "At the Dawning of Creation" [CORDE NATUS, text by Kathy Pluth], and "The Beatific Vision" [BEAUDRY, text by Sean M. Connolly]. It hasn't been that often that I've been able to set a new text to music, which might mean that tunes setting already extant texts may not find as much favour. Moving on from hymn settings, it is indeed the case that some of my other works have had some more traction, even if sometimes they seem to get sung as much or more in Europe than here in the U.S. - but that may be an artifact of my affiliation with CPDL. At any rate, my "Creator of the Stars of Night", "Nunc dimittis", "Psallite Domino", "This Advent Moon", "Agnus Dei" (from the Ascension Mass), "Ave verum corpus", and even the somewhat adventuresome "Non vos relinquam orphanos" have caught on in a few places. There may be other works of mine that are sung with some regularity that I'm not aware of. I am thrilled that in the 2021-2022 season, "A Hymn for St Cecilia" will receive a concert performance.

    The present work "Bring us, O Lord God" is very dear to my heart, already. I'm humbled to hear that others are moved by it, as well.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,744
    Note (7 October 2021): This is somewhat revised from before.

    Here are the (revised, final version) PDF score files for the B-flat (SMzATB), G (SMzATB and SATBarB), F (ATBBB), and E-flat (ATBBB) editions. The G major transpositions are acceptable for use by mixed voices (SMzATB or SATBarB). The B-flat transposition for mixed voices (SMzATB) is probably a bit too high pitched. But the other two lower pitch versions (F and E-flat) seem to have a better sound and gravitas. MP3 sound files are included for the G and E-flat versions.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,131
    Dear Charles, your reference to my posting the text of Donne touched me greatly, only because in the last 2 and half years, I have lost both my parents and my only brother. That poem and Harris' work have brought me great solace in the wake of such loss. Thus, I am glad that you found it such also. After the school year is over I will sit down with your composition, though I know it will be worth it and look for it to be programmed next year. With kind regards,
    Kevin
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Heath
  • Heath
    Posts: 883
    Charles, glorious!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,744
    Kevin, I appreciate your posting and message all the more. It is difficult to lose family members, as you and I both know well. May your parents and brother have eternal rest.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,744
    I forgot to point out the chordal progression of the fourth beat of m.40 into the first beat of m.41): from a pentatonic chord. of perfect fourths (D,G,C,F,B-flat), on beat four moving into another pentatonic chord. this time of perfect fifths (F,C,G,D,A), on beat one of the penultimate meaure. The (G,D) of this chord resolves a beat later to (A,F). Then a at beat three, top A moves to B-natural (the sharped fourth degree) before ascending and coming to rest on the dominant C of the F major chord in the final measure.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,744
    I cobbled together a rehearsal accompaniment score (for organ, F major version) in the last couple of days. Here it is, even though it might need some tweaking.

    Edit: An even more corrected accompaniment score uploaded 11:03pm CDT, 13th May.