Tres Cantus Sacri

 

I have frequently been drawn to the marvellously rich and colourful language of the Psalms and have incorporated texts derived from the Psalms in several of my works - most notably the large-scale cantata 'David'. It was therefore quite natural to turn to the Psalms for inspiration when I was asked by the Bristol Bach Choir to write a work of lively and festive character, scored for choir, woodwind and brass. On this occasion I decided to set the Latin versions of three very well-known Psalms, partly because I felt that that language was most appropriate for the somewhat ritualistic type of settings that I had in mind, and partly because I wanted to avoid the overtones and influences which such popular texts would have had if I had chosen the more familiar English Prayer Book words.

 

The three Psalms are: 

Psalm 47 - 0 clap your hands, all ye people
This is a largely forceful and rhythmic setting, in which the ritualistic element is found most strongly. 

Psalm 23 - The Lord is my shepherd
In this much gentler movement, the woodwind have the most prominent role. The central section to the words 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death' is set as a somewhat macabre march, and makes use of the traditional 'Dies Irae' plainsong. 

Psalm 150 - 0 praise God in His holiness
After a broad introduction, this breaks into a lively and colourfully scored movement, and ends with reiterated 'alleluias'. 

Tres Cantus Sacri was written in the autumn of 1983 as a result of a commission from the Bristol Bach Choir with support from South West Arts. 
The first performance was given on 16 June 1984 in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, by the Bristol Bach Choir conducted by Glyn Jenkins.

 

Christopher Brown 2011