The Circling Year



"The Circling Year" was commissioned by the British Federation of Young Choirs for a Singing Day in 1990 conducted by Brian Kay. My brief was to write a work in 5 or 6 movements lasting about 15 minutes, suitable for performance by school choirs, with either piano or orchestral accompaniment. I have to confess that I exceeded these requirements both in the number of movements and in the overall duration! However, since the Prologue is repeated as the Epilogue I hope that I can be forgiven the indulgence of an extra movement, and the eventual 23 minutes duration is explained partly by the additional movement but more by the natural space which 6/7 movements inevitably occupy if they are not to seem very peremptory.


Like many composers before me I have chosen a set of texts which loosely follow the cycle of seasons. The five main movements are enclosed within a Prologue and Epilogue which set the well-known medieval "New Year's Carol". This deliberately aims to catch the direct strophic character of the poem in a style which echoes traditional folk carols such as "I saw three ships" or "On Christmas Night". Spring is represented by a beautiful Red Indian poem about the beauty of nature and the inevitability of the seasonal cycle. The recurring words ".. may I walk .." are always set to the same melodic and rhythmic pattern and contrast with the more expressive and extended vocal lines which form the bulk of the movement.


"Wild Iron" paints a very vivid picture of a summer storm in a setting for unison

voices in 2 parts. The colour and sound of the words is matched by vivid orchestration and energetic vocal lines. In contrast Blake's famous poem "Ah! Sunflower" is set for unaccompanied 4-part chorus with a simplicity which aims to catch the tranquillity of these magical words.


Autumn is represented by three verses from Tennyson's poem "The Golden Year". Again the theme is the inevitability of the seasons, but Tennyson adds to this a plea for all men to be treated with dignity and for mankind to strive for universal peace. My setting is for a 3-part choir of either high or low voices, or, as today, in combination. Tennyson is also the poet for the next song, "Ring out, wild bells". This brings us full circle to New Year, and these lines from "In Memoriam" marvellously convey the joy and optimism of the festive season. The repeat of the "New Year Carol" at one and the same time rounds the cycle off and yet hints at a new beginning, as if the whole performance were about to start all over again.


As with all my music for young people I have tried to produce a work that is challenging in style and intent, but yet in an idiom which is accessible and within the technical capabilities of the performers. Above all I hope I have managed to produce a work which is enjoyable for singers and players of all standards and aspirations.


Christopher Brown 1995