Piece of the Week 54: God be in my head

After the complexity of last week’s The Spacious Firmament, this week’s piece inhabits a less rarified world, and was written for a special service for a group of churches some of which had only ‘occasional’ choirs, and few rehearsals. It does, though, share a sense of spiritual calm.

It is a setting of the well-known prayer God be in my head. Originally French c.1490 (‘Jesus soit en ma teste et mon entendement; Jesus soi ten mes yeulx et mon regardement’, etc) the text was soon translated into English and printed in a collection of prayers made in Salisbury, known as the Sarum Primer. Its direct injunction to consider God in all ways – in our head, our eyes, our mouth, our heart, and in our final days – has made it a popular short devotional prayer and it has been set to music by many composers, the most well-known setting probably being by the early twentieth-century composer, Walford Davies.

My setting, for SATB choir and organ, though accessible in style and easy to learn, is longer than many, as by creating three ‘verses’ I aimed to create an anthem-length piece. The melody itself uses a single motif which slowly climbs to a high point (‘God be in my heart, and in my thinking’) and then falls again for the final line (‘God be at my end, and at my departing’).

The text and melody is sung three times: the first verse largely in unison, the second verse in four-part harmony, and the last verse with a soprano descant over the unison melody, falling to four-part harmony again for the final lines. I aimed to create a feeling of serene prayerfulness suitable for any point in a service including during communion – and if a shorter version is needed then only one of the verses need be sung.

The music, written in 2021, was recently published by Colne Edition, both as an instant digital download (pdf) or in printed form – for details please go here.
You can see and hear the piece in this scrolling score.