Piece of the week: ‘O Saviour of the World’ (for choir and organ)

As we move into Lent, I’ve chosen my setting of a text from the Book of Common Prayer and the Catholic missal – O Saviour of the World.

This text has been set by many composers –that by John Goss is still often sung, and I think there are settings by Palestrina, Howells, Ouseley, Somervell, and others (some in the Latin version, ‘Salvator mundi’).  When I sat down to write this anthem – unusually just after Christmas – I found myself very moved by the text and distinctly remember hiding away in the front room to complete it. The result was a rather colourful setting – some might find it over-dramatic for a church service – and while intended as an anthem it could perhaps also be seen as a concert work.

It begins quite simply, with the words O Saviour of the world, who by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us, though the SSATBB scoring gives plenty of opportunity for rich harmony. The mood changes for Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord, with descending imitative passages alternating with single-note chanting, passed from voice to voice, as the music steadily becomes more impassioned – then returning to the more restrained mood of the opening section, enriched with several false relations. Finally, the extended Amen, covering the whole vocal range in pitch and dynamic, climaxing on a chord which perhaps belongs more in a jazz player’s vocabulary, but letting the organ have the last word as the music dissolves into nothingness.

I hope you find the setting moving: I got quite carried away on New Year’s Eve 2009 as I worked on this piece, finishing it just in time to leave the mood of melancholy penitence and celebrate the New Year with friends and family!

Here’s a link to a ‘scrolling score’.

It’s published by OUP in the collection ‘Alan Bullard Anthems’ which contains ten of my anthems covering the church year, and it is recorded by the wonderful Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, director Sarah MacDonald, on the CD ‘Wondrous Cross’ (Regent Records REGCD404) – containing my cantata Wondrous Cross along with several other of my anthems (sadly this seems to be unavailable currently, though I’m hoping this might not be for ever…)

More details of ‘O Saviour of the World’ here