About this Recording
8.573394 - RUTTER, J.: Psalmfest / This is the Day / Lord, Thou hast been our refuge / Psalm 150 (St Albans Cathedral Choirs, Royal Philharmonic, A. Lucas)

John Rutter (b. 1945)
Psalmfest • This is the day • Lord, Thou hast been our refuge • Psalm 150


For centuries the psalms of David have been a source of inspiration to composers, and have been set to music innumerable times. They were, of course, written with musical setting in mind, and they have a satisfying inbuilt rhetorical structure which lends itself to music: the first half of each verse builds up towards a climax followed by a pause, then the second half falls away again to a relaxed ending – the poetic equivalent of a gothic arch. The style of language of the original Hebrew, moreover, has generally drawn out the best in translators, and such psalms as are not purely narrative are often beautiful and musical-sounding purely as poetry. In the English Church the two most familiar translations probably remain those of the 1611 Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the latter version kept alive from its continued use today in cathedral worship. In fact the 1662 versions are often older than those of 1611, being based largely on Miles Coverdale’s translations from the first English Bible of 1535, and they are the ones I have generally turned to when undertaking psalm settings.

The most powerful reason composers remain attracted to the psalms, however, is perhaps because they express such a rich gamut of intensely human and timeless emotions: hope, faith, trust, joy, and wonder – and then, some uncomfortable ones which Christians may struggle with but which everyone has experienced: self-pity, jealousy, vengefulness, spite, anger, and sometimes a sense of having been abandoned by God.

For whatever combination of reasons, I seem to have composed quite a number of psalm settings over the years, and this album gathers together twelve of them. Psalmfest (1993) is a collection of nine of these settings, written over a period of some twenty years. Seven of the movements had previously been written and published separately as anthems, though Cantate Domino was previously unpublished and, exceptionally, O how amiable are thy dwellings was newly composed. Three of the eight pre-existing movements were adapted to incorporate soprano and baritone soloists, including The Lord is my shepherd, which in its original choir-only version had been included in my Requiem of 1985.

The slightly complicated history of Psalmfest does not, I hope, obscure its simple purpose, which was to open up a group of my psalm settings to concert audiences rather than just church congregations. The complexity and style of the music varies from movement to movement, but, in the spirit of King David, melody and song are never far away, and above all I sought always to be true to the emotional and spiritual sense of the texts.

Psalmfest was first performed in the Morton Meyerson Hall, Dallas, then in Carnegie Hall, New York, in June 1993. The original performers were the combined high school choirs of Garland, Texas.

The three individual psalm settings making up the remainder of this album were written for special occasions, two of these taking place in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, the third in Westminster Abbey. This is the day (2011), its text drawn from five psalms, was composed for the wedding in Westminster Abbey of Prince William and Kate Middleton (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). Lord, Thou hast been our refuge (2008) was written for the annual City United Guilds service in St Paul’s Cathedral; this magnificent cathedral was also the scene of Her Majesty the Queen’s Golden Jubilee service in 2002, for which I was asked to compose a setting of Psalm 150. Taking advantage of the unique architecture and acoustics of St Paul’s, I specified that for the interpolated Latin portions of the text a trio of choristers should sing from high up in the dome gallery, an effect skilfully simulated in the present recording, which took place in the magnificent but domeless St Albans Cathedral.

John Rutter

This recording was made possible by a bequest to the Cathedral by the late Dr John Birch, organist of the RPO, to whose memory this recording is dedicated.

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