Behind the Music

WHERE DOES DOUBLE-CHOIR MUSIC COME FROM?

Choruses and audiences LOVE double-choir music, most famously the Bach motets Komm, Jesu, KommFurchte dich Nicht, and Singet dem Herrn. But most of us have only the most general idea where this kind of choral composition originated.

The standard one-line answer is that the balconies in the magnificent St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice allowed for two separated musical forces, and that choirmaster Giovanni Gabrieli fully developed the impressive effect of alternating or echoing choirs.

SIR JOHN TAVENER (1944-2013)

BY DEBORAH GREENMAN

When Sir John Tavener died almost exactly a year ago in November of 2013, the London Evening Standard headline read, “John Tavener: Farewell to Classical Music’s Cult Hero.” Probably the only classical composer to have been promoted by the Beatles, he was indeed both a brilliant classical composer and something of a cult hero. Ringo Starr and John Lennon were impressed by his cantata The Whale, and in 1970 it was released on their Apple label. The cantata’s text is the story of Jonah and includes instructions for snorting and yawning sounds by the chorus, to create the effect of whale sounds. Tavener achieved fame, fortune and a connection to the British royal family when his Song for Athene, a song composed after the death of a young Greek girl who was a family friend, was played at the funeral of Princess Diana. He was made a knight in 2000 just a few years later. His work ranged ever more widely. He composed Veil of the Temple in 2003 as an all night vigil. It was scored for four choirs, several orchestras and soloists, and lasted seven full hours. His Prayer of the Heart was written and performed for pop performer Björk, and in 2007, he wrote a piece called The Beautiful Names, the text of which is the 99 names of God in the Muslim tradition.

The composer had been captivated by music from the age of three and eschewed formal theory teaching for improvisation. Tavener was a man of contrasts, simultaneously fascinated with the intensity and asceticism of the Russian and Greek Orthodox traditions, yet flamboyantly dressed and delighting in good food and fast cars. A journalist once described him as “a mystic who drives a Rolls Royce.” Devoted – and even perhaps disturbingly attached – to his charismatic mother, he was not able to sustain a relationship with a woman and have a family until after his mother died when he was close to 50 years old. His most important collaborator was a mother figure, a Russian Orthodox nun named Mother Thekla. From the 1980s on, she either wrote or adapted nearly all of his texts until late in his life when – almost certainly as the result of tension between his wife Maryanna and Mother Thekla – he broke off their partnership.

John Tavener was surrounded by music as a child.  Although his grandfather had a building business which his father later ran, father, grandfather, and many other family members played musical instruments. Tavener had perfect pitch and began improvising when he was three years old.  In his book The Music of Silence A Composer’s Testament, a series of reflections and responses to interviews by his friend and editor Brian Keeble, Tavener wrote:

“But by far the most powerful musical experience I had at this time was hearing Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum. I heard the first broadcast performance from St Mark’s, Venice, when I was twelve years old. That completely overwhelmed me and made me really want to compose. For two or three years after it, I was imitating the sounds I’d heard.”

Perhaps beginning with Stravinsky and then enhanced by his relationship with Mother Thekla, Tavener would become more and more at home in the Russian Orthodox Church. His compositions are striking for their focus on text.  He has a message, a spiritual message, to impart. He felt at home in the Orthodox Church because it was about immersion in the spiritual rather than an intellectual analysis of it. In his postlude to Tavener’s book, Keeble wrote, “Tavener’s belief that music is a way to ultimate truths capable of being integrated into life’s every moment necessarily hangs upon a religious and metaphysical vision of reality.”

In later life, Tavener was increasingly interested in Eastern religions and their unique tones.  For some time, he had had little patience for music without a message, “frivolous music without the purpose of spiritual enrichment.” Tavener appreciated the way that music was woven into the fabric of both spiritual and everyday life in eastern culture. In an interview with the New York Times in 2000, Tavener said, “I listened to Indian music, Persian music, all music from the Middle East. I listened to American Indian music. I listened to any music that was based on traditional ideas. That’s when I started to question what on earth happened to this Western civilization and why the sacred seems to have been pushed out gradually by the domination of the ego.”

However, while recovering from cardiac surgery in 1991, Tavener listened again to Beethoven’s Late Quartets, and he began to return to the work of other modern composers as well.  Although in his book, Tavener does not dwell on the impact of his medical problems on his spiritual life, it is hard not to see it as significant. He knew that he and his brother likely had Marfan’s syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that caused both his long-limbed body type and heart abnormalities. He had a stroke in 1980 when he was only 36 years old, and while recuperating read the introduction to The Life of St Mary by Mother Thekla that began his long and fruitful collaboration with her. About ten years after the stroke, he had cardiac surgery. He told Ivan Hewett, a reporter for the Telegraph in what would become his last interview, “my consultant keeps telling me sudden death could come at any moment.”

In The Music of Silence, Keeble asks Tavener what “state of being and what expectations would you like listeners to bring to a performance of your music?” Tavener replies, “First of all, I do not say ‘Do this, do that, Listen to this, Look out for that.’ That is the way of Western classical music.  Rather I would say: here is something that is before all ages coming to birth – something new – something already known.  But it is not what I have done that is important, rather the spirit that has animated it. Close the mind and open the heart.  Expect nothing and you may receive ‘something.’”

Opening the heart seems an apt description of the way one might receive a performance of his song “The Lamb.” Tavener composed this utterly simple song in one day in 1982 for his then three-year-old nephew Simon. In The Music of Silence, Tavener writes “The Lamb’ came to me spontaneously and complete. I read Blake’s poem ‘The Lamb’ from the Songs of Innocence and as soon as I read it, the music was there…. Also, symbolism in the use of chords appears in The Lamb – there’s a joy/sorrow chord in it (Tavener refers here to the chord A-C-G-B) , on the word ‘lamb’ , which I was to use many times later.” For Cecilia’s Music Director, Nicholas White, hearing the second ever performance of this piece at age 15 was compelling: he was hearing something “radically different from any other carol” he’d heard before.

At our Christmas concerts on December 5th and December 7th, The Boston Cecilia will
perform “The Lamb” as well as a less-known set of pieces, Ex Maria Virgine. This latter cycle sets texts united by their focus on the person of Mary, Mother of God. It was commissioned by the Clare College Choir, completed on Christmas Day 2005, and “dedicated to HRH, The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall in joyful celebration of their marriage.”

It is hard to consider the constant refrain of homage to the mother Mary without thinking of Tavener’s powerful attachment to his own mother and his sense that she was crucial to his development as a composer. Tavener wrote about his piece: “I have set both familiar and less well known elements and linked them with an expanding and contracting phrase Ex Maria Virgine. This refers to Mary, Mother of God, and should be sung with great radiance and femininity.” The cycle uses the words of conventional English carols like “Ding! Dong! merrily on high” and texts from Greek and Islamic sources in a piece that challenges the listener. There is at once a sense of disconnection; is this medieval England or ancient Byzantium?  Is that Latin or Aramaic? and then unity. Somehow the dissonant and melodic sections, the different languages, the angry words about the “The Empress of Hell” and the “lulla lulla” of the lullaby to rock the infant Jesu,  all come together, united by the repetition at the end of each of the ten sections with the “expanding and contracting” phrase Ex Maria Virgine.

Perhaps in the later years of his life, some of the conflicts within this compelling, and passionate composer were also coming together. He had held onto his early fascination with Russian tradition, explored eastern religious and mystical tradition, focused on sacred texts and eschewed much of modern music, but he returned to Beethoven, Handel and others, and in his very last years set sonnets of Shakespeare to music. His funeral was in the Anglican Cathedral of Winchester but presided over by a senior Orthodox bishop.

On December 5th and December 7th, The Boston Cecilia will excitedly undertake the complexity of the brilliant and enigmatic John Tavener as we celebrate both his legacy and the Christmas season.

PREPARING FOR CHICHESTER PSALMS

BY CHARLIE EVETT

For a bass, the middle of the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms stands out as one of the most “fun” passages in the choral literature. The tricky rhythms and Hebrew language are challenging enough to keep you on your toes, and the brisk tempo and dramatic dynamics are irresistible.

I first performed this in high school, and we drilled and drilled this section until it was completely burned into our subconscious, but I never had the slightest idea what the words meant. That didn’t stop us basses from saluting each other with a stout “V’roznim!” as we passed each other in the halls on the way to class.

Here is a bit of the Hebrew text:

Lamah rag'shu goyim
Ul'umim yeh'gu rik?
Yit'yats'vu malchei erets,
V'roznim nos'du yaḥad
Al Adonai v'al m'shiḥo.

Now I come to discover this is from Psalm 2, “Why do the Nations rage”. In his translation, Robert Alter presents this verse as:

“Why are the nations aroused,
and the peoples murmur vain things?
Kings of the earth take their stand,
and princes conspire together
against the Lord and His anointed.”

Of course this text is familiar to most of us from the bass aria in Handel’s Messiah. Here is a recording from Boston Cecilia’s one and only performance in 2000, with Mark Risinger as the bass  soloist. We see again that when you’re a bass being angry can be an excuse to have a grand time.

Interestingly, this part of the Chichester Psalms springs from the original request to the composer. In early December 1963, Bernstein received a letter from the Very Reverend Walter Hussey, Dean of the Cathedral of Chichester in Sussex, England, requesting a piece for the Cathedral’s 1965 music festival:

“The Chichester Organist and Choirmaster, John Birch, and I, are very anxious to have written some piece of music which the combined choirs could sing at the Festival to be held in Chichester in August, 1965, and we wondered if you would be willing to write something for us. I do realize how enormously busy you are, but if you could manage to do this we should be tremendously honoured and grateful. The sort of thing that we had in mind was perhaps, say, a setting of the Psalm 2, or some part of it, either unaccompanied or accompanied by orchestra or organ, or both. I only mention this to give you some idea as to what was in our minds.”

He goes on to say, “Many of us would be very delighted if there was a hint of West Side Story about the music.” and indeed, the second movement has material taken from the Prologue of West Side Story.

This passage is just as evocative now as it was in 1965. When Chichester Psalms debuted at Lincoln Center on July 15th, “Operation Rolling Thunder” had been underway in Vietnam for 3 months — a “limited” bombing campaign against the communist controlled north. 60,000 American troops had been deployed to Vietnam and had begun “Search and Destroy” missions. Ho Chi Minh appeared on the cover of Time magazine the next day.

Bernstein was very active in social causes throughout his life. In March of 1965, he participated in a “Stars for Freedom” rally in Montgomery, Alabama to support the march from Selma led by Martin Luther King. 

Importantly, in the Chichester Psalms, the raging of nations gives way to the overarching message of peace that begins and ends the second movement, albeit with some final murmurs of vain things. In the last movement, flowing melody and a hushed final unison beautifully express Bernstein's hopes for peace and unity through music.

A CECILIA AND DVOŘÁK REUNION

BY LARRY HERZ

Antonín Dvořák was born near Prague in 1841, then part of Bohemia, in the Austrian Empire. He was an impoverished music teacher and composer until winning the Austrian State Prize in 1874, and again in 1877. His prolific output of folk-inspired music captivated some and repelled others. Promoted by Johannes Brahms in particular, Dvořák’s compositions were hailed in Prague and Vienna. By 1882, his works had captivated London, and a series of concerts with the Royal Symphony followed.

As Dvorak's fame spread, Boston caught the fever. The Cecilia, as it was then called, was accustomed to a steady fare of German and English compositions and programmed his new works beginning with his Stabat Mater (American premiere) in its eighth season, in 1884. This was repeated in 1885 and followed in 1886 by The Spectre's Bride. Audiences and critics were mostly enthusiastic, and these pieces and Dvořák's Patriotic Hymn saw a total of nine performances through 1891.

In 1892, Dvorak secured a sponsored chair at New York's National Conservatory of Music. Most biographies note that his princely salary of $15,000 was half again as much as that of the mayor of New York. Dvořák had come to the United States, he said, to learn about the roots of genuinely American music. His inquiries would lead him to African-American sources, including the spiritual which supposedly inspired the "Goin' Home" theme in his New World Symphony. He also spent a summer composing in a Czech immigrant community in Iowa.

In November of 1892, he came to Boston to conduct Cecilia in the Boston premiere of his Requiem. Margaret Ruthven Lang, daughter of founder and music director B. J. Lang, chronicled these first 30 years and reported on the visit. Cecilia was at that time a subscription organization, with no tickets sold separately. However, its habit was to perform a Monday evening Wage Earner's Concert before each Wednesday concert.

When Dvořák was told of this, he wrote in a letter, "December 1 will be for the wealthy and intelligenzia, but the preceding day my work will also be performed for poor workers who earn $18 per week, the purpose being to give the poor and uneducated the musical works of all times and nations. That's something, isn't it? I am looking forward to it like a child."

The performance was evidently not problem-free. While reviewers called Dvořák "simple, modest, a man of great talent," he was also "almost entirely lacking in personal magnetism, [with] little force to control either singers or musicians." Another wrote, "Now and again there was false intonation, but if a composer insists on writing ear-baffling and voice-trying intervals, he must take the consequences." One defender seized on a colleague's term of "barbarous" as "Boston slang for 'Slavic' or 'not German.'" Evidently, reviewing was as much a performance art as was music-making.

Over the next four years, Cecilia performed Dvořák pieces (including his Eia Mater) just twice. The Dvořák craze had subsided. But with time Bostonians' ears were less baffled and voices less tried by the intervals Dvorak composed. Today it is hard to imagine his Mass in D Major as perplexing. Modern voices and ears will perceive the music in Cecilia's October 19th performance with a modern sensibility, to hear its beauty, as originally written for organ, choir, and solo voices.

I WONDER... WHAT IS A CAROL?

BY NICHOLAS WHITE

A preview of the upcoming Christmas program by The Boston Cecilia

A good Christmas carol needs to have a good tune. Whether or not one subscribes to this concept, the dictionary definition of the word carol suggests “a song of joy or mirth, a popular song or ballad.” For me, the most memorable expressions of joy around the holiday time come from the most simply tuneful, rhythmically playful and sublime musical offerings. In our December program, we will offer a broad palette of carols that, I feel, fit that description. 

Some of the most effective programming choices seem to happen subconsciously, just as much as they follow lengthy, serious consideration. This year’s program, entitled “No Small Wonder” is no exception. In assembling this program of mostly 20th Century works from England, Wales and America, it strikes me again that beautiful choral music transcends national boundaries and language. Well over half of the program actually uses a mixture of English and Latin within the same composition, and these macaronic offerings underscore the power of melody and song in the effective communication of the Christmas message.

John Jacob Niles’ haunting melody to I Wonder As I Wander is given elegant treatment by John Rutter as the program softly begins, with undulating harmonic support from the choir. This is followed by the crisp, clean rhythms of Samuel Scheidt’s Puer Natus In Bethlehem, the buoyant melody of the soloist reflecting the excitement of the message, and provoking an exuberant choral response. Robert Lucas Pearsall’s radiant arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo has become a favorite of choirs across the world. Pearsall translated the German words into his own English version, and maintained the original alternation with the Latin phrases, ending with an extended development of the music for the words “O that we were there.” 

Carols are intended to be sung by everyone. Following the short organ solo, one of Bach’s fantasia-style chorale preludes on the In Dulci Jubilo tune, the audience will get a chance to join in the singing. The First Nowell is from 18th-century Cornwall, arranged by David Willcocks in various harmonizations for the choral forces. The audience is invited to join in the singing of the refrain throughout. 

Ave Rex by Welshman William Mathias was first performed in December 1969 by the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir in Llandaff Cathedral. It was commissioned by the choir and is a sequence of three contrasting anonymous medieval carols framed by a dramatic setting of the invocation Ave Rex itself. The three carols are a high-spirited Alleluya; an introspective setting of There is no Rose and finally the cheery and joyful Sir Christèmas. The work concludes with a reprise of the sequence’s opening material.

The second half of the program begins with the work from which this concert takes its name. Paul Edwards wrote this lush, jazz-inspired setting of Paul Wigmore’s poem with its recurrent phrase “no small wonder” in 1983, and it has become much loved by choirs during the last three decades. The foundation of the organ provides a rich, warm bed of harmony for the simple melody. Indeed, it is the harmony that provides the greater part of the intrigue in this piece.

Peter Warlock (born Philip Heseltine) was a music critic and composer of some notoriety, his chosen pseudonym reflecting his interest in occult practices! The set moves from the simple, yet powerful, unison setting of Adam Lay Ybounden, through the poignant setting of Bruce Blunt’s poem Bethlehem Down with its earthy imagery, on to the gentle Balulalow and culminating in the riotous exuberance of Benedicamus Domino. These four of Warlock carols demonstrate a rich variety of textures that are undeniably from the pen of a master craftsman with a distinctive musical voice.

Distinctive musical voice is a quality that can certainly be applied to the French composer on the program tonight. While we are not featuring any delicate early French Noëls here, Barbara Bruns will play one of the most popular of Olivier Messiaen’s works for organ, the final movement from his nine-piece cycle La Nativité du Seigneur, known as Dieu parmi nous, or “god among us.” Messiaen’s unique harmonic language and virtuoso writing for the organ builds to a grand toccata that, with the thrusting descent of the pedal line, symbolizes God coming down from heaven.

John Goss was a professor of harmony at the Royal Academy of Music from 1827-1874, and was also organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. His setting of Edward Caswall’s text has again been arranged by David Willcocks, inventively varying the combinations of voices. The audience is invited to join in the refrain of See amid the Winter’s Snow

Richard Wayne Dirksen spent his entire career at Washington National Cathedral, where he was influential in many areas, most especially in musical leadership, creation and teaching. A Child My Choice was written quickly, in response to the need for some music to fill out the time on a live Christmas broadcast. Dirksen’s setting of Southwell’s words has subsequently become a favorite of choirs all over the United States. The simple, lilting 5/4 time and straightforward opening harmonies belie a depth of emotion that comes through in the middle of each verse. In short, this carol represents the very best example of simplicity reaching the listener in a profound way.

The final three pieces on the program are shining examples of the type of carol that any listeners would want to allow to simply wash over them as they sit within the walls of some gothic cathedral church, as the snow falls outside and the candlelight glimmers within, to usher in the holiday season is. Grayston Ives was a member of The King’s Singers, and subsequently Informator choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford. Sweet Was The Song is an example of his lyrical style, written with a full understanding of vocal elegance, and reminiscent of Rutter’s earlier carol, What Sweeter Music. Benjamin Britten, whose 100th birthday we celebrate as I write these notes, is best known for his Ceremony of Carols. His elegant A Hymn to the Virgin, for double choir, composed in 1930 during an enforced spell in the infirmary at Gresham’s School when he was only sixteen years old, shows Britten’s mastery of compositional techniques and choral textures from a very young age. Another macaronic text, the solo quartet interjects Latin phrases in response to the choir’s lines of poetry in honor of the Lady, flower of everything.

We end with one of John Rutter’s earliest carols, for which he wrote both words and music. Published in 1967, The Nativity Carol alternates lines of heart-on-the-sleeve poignancy with a simple refrain of the Christmas message. Achieving everything that its predecessor, In The Bleak Midwinter by Harold Darke, achieves, Rutter’s carol has in its own way become a classic example of the sound of Christmas.

IN MEMORIAM: JOHN GRIMES (1946-2013)

BY DONALD TEETERS

John Grimes was a musician’s musician. He loved performing. He also loved the preparation for performance and the research that went into determining the right instrument and mallets for the work being performed, be it opera, oratorio, or symphony. And there was a stylistic integrity that he brought to his work, the knowledge that music by Handel or Haydn or Brahms or Britten required different sounds and techniques. John’s attention to these matters, coupled with his great natural gift, earned him the admiration of his colleagues. Audiences, too, enjoyed his musical company. His enthusiasms were a delight to hear and to see. He wanted people to see how much fun he was having.

His first performance with The Boston Cecilia (then The Cecilia Society) was on April 14, 1977. The work was Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Benjamin Zander was the conductor. I was on sabbatical leave for most of that season. When I last visited John at his home two weeks before he died, he was working on orchestral contracting details related to Cecilia’s forthcoming performance of that work, on Bach’s birthday, March 21, 2014. Cecilia’s new music director, Nicholas White, will conduct. There is a poignant symmetry, I think, in musing on that span of thirty-six years between John’s first and final collaborations with The Boston Cecilia, and on all the fine music-making that took place in between, and that at the core, both at beginning and end, was Bach’s magnum opus.

I have conducted many Cecilia performances over the years in which John played a central role: a great deal of Handel, of course, and Bach, but also Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and from later times Fauré and Britten and some fine composers of right now. John Grimes was not only a frequent performer with Cecilia, but also a valued contributor to its management team as a member of the Board of Directors during his final years. Speaking personally, the relationship between John Grimes and me grew from a formal, professional one into, in the last decade or so, one of great personal friendship and mutual respect. We had great conversations about everything. He liked my cooking. I liked the wines he brought as accompaniments. His circle of friendships was wide, professional connections maybe even wider. Stories of his kindnesses and support are legend, markers of the respect and affection this most remarkable man and musician so fully earned. He is missed.

—Donald Teeters, Conductor Emeritus

Timpani photo: courtesy of Flickr user, vxla

TAKE HIM EARTH FOR CHERISHING: 50 YEARS AFTER JFK

BY DEBORAH GREENMAN

John and Jacqueline Kennedy, photo courtesy www.maryferrell.org

On November 22, 1963, forty-six year old John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the nation's thirty-fifth President, was assassinated on a Friday afternoon in Dallas, Texas.  The first music performed in his memory may well have been at Boston’s Symphony Hall.  People who were at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Friday afternoon concert were given the shattering news by Erich Leinsdorf who then conducted an impromptu performance of the Funeral March from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. 

And not long after Kennedy's death, British composer, Herbert Howells, was asked to write a piece for a joint Canadian-American Memorial Service.  The piece, the motet Take Him Earth for Cherishing, was completed the following spring, and was first performed November 22, 1964—the first anniversary of Kennedy’s death—by the Choir of the Cathedral of St George from Kingston, Ontario.  George N. Maybee conducted in Washington’s National Gallery.  The concert featured commissioned works, not only by Howells, but also by a Canadian, Graham George, Professor of music at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario and an American, Leo Sowerby, the Director of the College of Church Musicians of Washington Cathedral.  Graham George’s piece was set to Herrick’s text, “In God’s Command Ne’er Ask the Reason Why”; Sowerby’s was a setting of six verses of Psalm 119.

November 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, so it seems fitting that Boston Cecilia, led by its new director Nicholas White, will perform the motet on November 2nd at All Saints Church.  The November 2nd concert will also include three pieces by Charles Villiers Stanford, Howell’s first professor of composition; Stanford called Howells “My son in Music.”

At the time that Howells was asked to compose a piece in memoriam, he was well known as the composer of a choral symphony of death and transfiguration, Hymnus Paradisi, composed in memory of his beloved son Michael who died at age nine of polio.  Howell’s anguish is vividly recorded in his diary with the words, ”One feels the futility of all the things one usually sets value on when one is faced with reality.”  The title of the Hymnus comes from Prudentius, a fourth century scholar in the judiciary of Emperor Theodosius who wrote Hymnus Circa Exsequias Defuncti, translated by Helen Waddell as Hymn for the Burial of the Dead.  (Much later it was suggested that Howells change the title to the more manageable Hymnus Paradisi.)

The first two lines of this poem—initially intended for the Hymnus itself —became the epigraph for the Hymnus.  Those lines “Nunc suscipe, terra, favendum, gremioque hunc concipe molli,” Waddell translates as “Take him earth for cherishing, To thy tender breast receive him.”  Nearly fifteen years after composing the Hymnus and thirty years after the death of his son, Howells would return to those lines for the motet in memory of Kennedy.    

In a sleeve note to an Argo (RG 507) recording of the piece, Howells wrote:

I was asked to compose an a cappella work for the commemoration (of Kennedy). The text was mine to choose, Biblical or other. Choice was settled when I recalled a poem by Prudentius (AD 348-413). I had already set it in its medieval Latin, years earlier, as a study for Hymnus Paradisi. But now I used none of that unpublished setting. Instead I turned to Helen Waddell’s faultless translation:

Take him, Earth, for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble even in its ruin.

Here was the perfect text—the Prudentius ‘Hymnus Circa Exsequias Defuncti’. The motet is sung here as intended—wholly for unaccompanied voices. Formally it is roughly A-B-A; in texture variably 4- to 8-part. Tonality anchors (first and last) on B, but admits chromatic phases, as at:

Ashes that a man might measure
In the hollow of his hand.

Finally, a near-funeral match tethered again to B, but in the more consoling major mode.
— sleeve note to an Argo (RG 507) recording of Take Him Earth For Cherishing

Howells composed Hymnus Paradisi as a way of working through the pain of his son’s early death.  With Take Him Earth for Cherishing, he would return to the words of the Hymnus epigraph to bring consolation to an entire nation.  Take Him Earth for Cherishing would then be performed at Howells’ own Memorial Service in St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge in May of 1983, nearly twenty years after it was first performed in memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.