Piece of the week 66: Come, O Creator Spirit

This Pentecost anthem came about through a commission from Wellington College, the public school in Berkshire. In 1995 they hosted the annual conference of the MMA (now the MTA – Music Teachers’ Association) and their morning service, which included this anthem, was broadcast by the BBC.

The request was for an anthem suitable for the large chapel at the college, for SATB choir and organ, and with an optional voice part for the congregation. I decided that it would combine two elements: the traditional Pentecost plainsong melody Veni creator Spiritus / Come, O Creator Spirit (Mechlin), sung by the congregation and choir, and an original and more decorative setting of the nineteenth century words by Edwin Hatch, Breathe on me, breath of God, sung only by the choir.

In my setting, the two elements are alternated, each occurring three times, and then in the fourth and final time the two elements are combined.

  1. Veni creator: congregation lower voices and choir Tenors and Basses
    Breathe on me: choir Sopranos/Trebles and Altos (quietly)
  1. Veni creator: congregation upper voices and choir SATB
    Breathe on me: choir SATB (a little louder)
  1. Veni creator (in a higher key): congregation and choir SATB
    Breathe on me: choir SATB (louder than before, leading to a climax point)
  1. Veni creator (in an even higher key): congregation and choir Altos and Basses, combined with Breathe on me: choir Sopranos and Tenors

Amen x 3.

Thus the result is a continuous flow of sound, the ‘breath of God’ filling us with ‘life anew’, gradually moving to a high point in the final combined verse.

In the BBC recording at Wellington College the first statement of Veni Creator was omitted due to time constraints. But you can hear a complete performance, by the choir of Lion Walk Church, with scrolling score here.

The Wellington College performance is here (with the missing opening verse added in on organ only).

The music is published by Oxford University Press and is obtainable here, and the image shows part of the final verse in which the two elements are combined.