for SATB chorus & orchestra
“Invocation” was written in collaboration with the conductor as a response to the Telemann setting of Psalm 71. A simple thing that the psalm references is earthly beauty, as if it were a gift to us, to remind us of the beauty of God. My piece is the embodiment of an attempt to beckon or “invoke” God in order to see past earthly beauty and instead see his grace and glory. “Come down from heaven and bring me in your eyes.”
WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a poem of the same name exactly one century ago this year. The poem speaks of yearning, hope, and acceptance. Sassoon takes the reader on a journey - beginning with a desire-filled plea from the first line, “Come down from heaven to meet me when my breath chokes.” I’ve set this line as a recurring musical motive - two solitary repeating chords that emerge from the strings during the first section of the piece. We’re then transported into a dance-like section in 6/8, where the elements of nature and scenes of beauty are revealed.
At the stanza break in the poem, the piece takes a turn. The chorus becomes declamatory, accompanied by brass fanfares and a fast-paced string obbligato. For a moment, the speaker in the poem experiences the glory they seek during the setting of the word “wonder.” However this fades into an apprehensive and tentative a cappella section on the text “In your gaze show me the vanquished vigil of my days. Mute in that golden silence hung with green.” The chorus then begins to chant “come down from heaven” for the last time, garnering more orchestral voices to their call each time until the speaker is reintroduced to the glory experienced earlier.
The piece then fades into a slow moving re-interpretation of the opening section, with the strings playing the same chords from before. A lone muted trumpet and solo clarinet accompany the chorus and strings - presenting extracts of melodic passages from the beginning of the piece. The chorus, almost acting as if they were stunned from experiencing glory, slowly fade away in calm acceptance and stillness.
A performance program can be downloaded here.
Come down from heaven to meet me when my breath
Chokes, and through drumming shafts of stifling death
I stumble toward escape, to find the door
Opening on morn where I may breathe once more
Clear cock-crow airs across some valley dim
With whispering trees. While dawn along the rim
Of night's horizon flows in lakes of fire,
Come down from heaven's bright hill, my song's desire.
Belov'd and faithful, teach my soul to wake
In glades deep-ranked with flowers that gleam and shake
And flock your paths with wonder. In your gaze
Show me the vanquished vigil of my days.
Mute in that golden silence hung with green,
Come down from heaven and bring me in your eyes
Remembrance of all beauty that has been,
And stillness from the pools of Paradise.
Siegfried Sassoon (1918)
Rose-Antoinette Bellino Hana Cai Paulina Francisco Elijah McCormack Jingqi Zhu
Liz Culpepper Annmarie Errico Nicole Melissas Eleni Taluzek
Blake Beckemeyer Stewart Duncan Joshua Harper Joseph McBrayer