God’s Grandeur makes a companion piece to Pied Beauty, the first Gerard Manley Hopkins poem on ecstatic themes that I’ve set for choir. While Pied Beauty seemed a quiet hymn to me, God’s Grandeur read like a scena—its emotions ranging from awe through despair to an ecstasy of gratitude in one taut sonnet. That’s why this piece seemed to need its own substantial, quasi-orchestral piano part, as opposed to unaccompanied motet style of Pied Beauty; and why God’s Grandeur‘s vocalism ranges from fiery fanfare to desolate recitative to conclude, at last, in bright chorale. I was delighted to compose it for the redoubtable Gregg Smith Singers, who have made such extraordinary contributions to new choral music over the decades; the ensemble gave its first performance in January 2010.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.