Anthem – ‘Awake, Awake, the World is Young’ Op. 34

Composed: 1999
Duration: 17 Minutes
Scoring: S.A.T.B, Mezzo-Soprano, Brass, Strings, Percussion (3 Players) and Organ.
First Performance: 11 November 2000 by the Charlton Kings and Cirencester Choral Societies, Der-Shin Hwang (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Wilson (organ) and conductor John Wright at Cheltenham Town Hall.
Commissioned: The Charlton Kings and Cirencester Choral Societies with additional funds from Lady Bliss

A note from the composer:

In 1999, I received a joint commission from Charlton Kings and Cirencester Choral Societies, to compose an anthem to celebrate the new Millennium. John Wright, the principal conductor of the Charlton Kings Choral Society, was keen to give me the freedom to respond to the Millennium theme without imposing any pre-conditions upon my creativity. My mind turned to the idea of writing a work that was broadly reflective in character whilst attempting to reaffirm some of humanities more noble goals and aspirations. These somewhat hazy thoughts were brought into focus by the author Anthony Boden who drew my attention to a section from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘In Memoriam’, that began with the lines ‘Ring out the old, ring in the new’. This inspired text was ideal for setting. However, Tennyson’s visionary poem did lack one vital element, namely the voice of the individual. I therefore needed to find a complementary text. The answer came in the guise of James Elroy Flecker and his celebratory poem, A New Year’s Carol.

‘Awake, Awake! The world is young,

For all its weary years of thought:

The starkest fights must still be fought,

The most surprising songs be sung’.

Here was the element of self-renewal that was essential to my vision of what a Millennium work should represent. Humanity may not have achieved its noblest aspirations, but that does not mean that we should forget them, or indeed give up trying to achieve them. I believe that every individual plays their part in the unfolding of history, and I hope that this work may in some small way help to illuminate that pathway and engage the listener in the challenges of humanities unfinished journey. By placing Flecker’s poem at the centre of the work and flanking it on each side with the Tennyson, I had arrived at a structure upon which to build the music.

There work is divided into three main sections, each reflecting the varying moods and changing emotions of the poems. The anthem opens with a short orchestral introduction that presents the works principal melodic and rhythmic ideas. The opening chorus, heralds Tennyson’s joyous words, “Ring out the old, ring in the new”. The music for this very rhythmical and energetic section seeks to express the collective human desire for renewal and hope. In the second and central section of the work the music becomes more reflective with Flecker’s words acting as the spokesperson for humanity. A simple organ line accompanies the mezzo- soprano’s lyrical and pensive narrative. This section gives way to a lengthy chorus that takes a more contrapuntal path leading to a powerful climax on the word ‘Truth’. The music’s momentary diatonic feel pulls us away from the complexity of the highly chromatic writing that preceded it, and stands as a powerful musical metaphor. In the third section a return of the anthem’s opening material leads to dramatic climax and to the emotional core of the work. At this pivotal moment, the previously intoned music on the words “Ring out” takes on a menacing tone as the music becomes more intense and chromatic. The release finally occurs on the words “Ring out the thousand wars of old, ring in the thousand years of peace” On last word “peace” the music fades away in a mood of questioning uncertainty.How to end a work can often be problematical for a composer. Originally, I had intended to finish with the penultimate stanza of Tennyson’s poem. This would have accorded with the universal hope for an end to all war, and it would certainly have given the work a secular appeal. However, the Millennium should mark the birth of Jesus Christ and so in the end, I decided to round off the work with the final stanza of Tennyson’s words, thus echoing the poet’s hope that the world could be reborn through Christ’s capacity for spiritual renewal. This very thought was brought home to me on New Year’s Day in 2000 when I opened the Sunday Times. To my astonishment there was the very Tennyson poem that I had just set!

Musical Sample:

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From ‘In Memoriam’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Canto CVI) and ‘A New Year’s Carol’ by James Elroy Flecker.

1.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
The year is going, let him go;

2.

Awake, awake! The world is young,
For all its weary years of thought:
The starkest fights must still be fought,
The most surprising songs be sung.
And those who have no other Gods
May still behold, if they bestir,
The windy amphitheatre
Where dawn the timeless periods.
Then hear the shouting-voice of men
Magniloquently rise and ring;
Their flashing eyes and measured swing
Prove that the world is young again.
I was beyond the hills and heard
That old and fervent Goddess call,
Whose voice is like a waterfall,
And sweeter than the singing-bird.
O stubborn arms of rosy youth,
Break down your other Gods, and turn
To where her dauntless eyes do burn –
The silent pools of Light and Truth.

3.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold,
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.