A Lenten Prayer for SATB choir was completed on 17 February 1995. My first choral work, it was commissioned by the local cathedral to be performed as the introit at a service marking the beginning of Lent. As such, the text i used was a paraphrase of Isaiah 58, verse 8:
Through the true fast, Lord,
may your healing light break forth upon us,
shining like the dawn,
and your glory, the glory of God, ever protect us.
A Lenten Prayer had the most difficult existence of anything i’ve written. As it turned out, the cathedral’s chamber choir were clearly not well accustomed to the particular kind of “semi-consonant-free-atonality” i was fond of at the time (i’ll never forget the choir director telling me how the singers “winced” at the first rehearsal: ouch), and the choir soon abandoned trying to learn it. Subsequently, in May the following year i assembled a group of excellent singers at music college, but they were only able to sing one phrase at a time. Undaunted, i managed to put together a rudimentary cut-and-splice recording from this session, and the piece somehow managed to win a local composition prize, but it was never performed properly.
In hindsight, the fact that the piece was only performable in fragments seems in keeping with the way i composed the piece, which was similarly one phrase at a time, though of course i was intending it to flow reasonably well. No excuses though; this was written at a time when my harmonic language was beginning to develop rapidly and i realise, in hindsight, i was really only concerned with exploring that rather than with trying to write something that would fit well with the experience and expectations of the cathedral’s chamber choir. Mea maxima culpa. i never tried again to get the piece performed; i don’t think i ever really wanted to.
Once again, nothing physical survived of this piece, so all that remained were the usual digitalia: a Sibelius score, a PDF, a programme note text file, plus the audio of the recording session along with a rather pointless attempt from 2012 to create a better quality cut-and-splice than the rather clunky original (which was done before digital editing was easy). These have all now been deleted.
Aw, Simon, you could at least have let my lot have a crack at it first, even though it would inevitably have ended in failure – after all, it doesn’t look that atonal: the voice-leading is fairly un-treacherous (on the page, at least), and that final chord is only an Eb minor triad with added major sixth (the modern SATB composer’s bread-and-butter, in other words)…
It seems you have a different take on this, Simon, but the way anything remotely departing from convention and familiarity is so often summarily dismissed by amateurs is very depressing even though understandable on one level. One for the BBC Singers I think!
Tom, i was reflecting more on the fact that i didn’t focus at all on writing something collaborative with the choir. Pretty much everything i’ve ever composed has been for specific performers, usually who i know, and therefore has been collaborative. In one sense, writing A Lenten Prayer was a useful experience inasmuch as it made it clear how things can go awry when you don’t pay much attention to what the performer is used to. i naively assumed they’d be able to do whatever i wanted them to. But you’re right, the BBC Singers would have just sight-read through it all without any problems.
…but would any of their “alternative funding models” give them licence to sing it…???