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Poetry in Music: George Herbert

Corvus Consort (vocal ensemble)

Corvus Consort presents a fascinating exploration of composers’ responses to the poetry of 17th-century English metaphysical poet George Herbert (1593-1633). Through a sumptuous selection of choral music by Judith Weir, Alec Roth, Roxanna Panufnik, James MacMillan and more, the musicians reveal how George Herbert’s words have provided inspiration to a whole generation of composers.

This sample hour-long programme gives an idea of the glorious music on offer, and can also be expanded to give a full-length concert programme.

Judith Weir: Love bade me welcome
Alec Roth: I will move thee
James MacMillan: To My Successor
Nathan James Dearden: Full of sweet days
Judith Weir: Vertue
Alec Roth: The Flower
Alec Roth: Men & Angels

If instruments are available, the programme continues as follows…

Roxanna Panufnik: The Call
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs

Alternatively, if performing a cappella…

Herbert Howells: Sweetest of sweets
Alec Roth: Shared Ground

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s magnificent Five Mystical Songs are perhaps the most famous setting of Herbert’s poetry. Originally scored for baritone solo, choir and orchestra, Vaughan Williams also produced chamber versions, including a version where the choir is accompanied by piano and string quartet, and a version with just piano accompaniment. Roxanna Panufnik’s The Call is scored for choir and harp, but can also be done with piano or organ.

Alec Roth’s Shared Ground is a cycle of six choral movements, setting six short poems by Vikram Seth. These poems are written in direct response to the words of George Herbert, inspired by Seth’s experience of living in the house where Herbert wrote much of his poetry nearly 400 years earlier. Roth composed Shared Ground while staying in the very same house, and the influence of George Herbert is strikingly tangible throughout both words and music.

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