By Howard Goodall
Faber Edition: Choral Signature Series
John Henry Newman’s moving and profound sacred poem Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom has cast a spell on me ever since I was a boy chorister in Oxford (UK) in the 1960s, when it was introduced to me attached to William Harris’s stirring hymn tune Alberta, composed, apparently, as he was crossing that Canadian province by train in the 1920s.
Why is this Victorian text still so powerful? For me, it is a perfect expression of the comfort of a compassionate faith, filled as it is with human fragility and the doubt that we know Newman was grappling with at this stage in his life. Because it has always spoken so directly and personally to me I was determined that it should be a cornerstone of my Eternal Light: A Requiem both as a stand-alone movement but also as the thematic climax of the Requiem’s concluding movement, In Paradisum. Whilst I admire the familiar, existing tunes associated with the hymn, I wanted my Lead, Kindly Light to evoke the turbulent waters of the sea, serving as a reminder of the fact that its words were written by a man who believed himself to be confronted with the possibility of death, stranded as he was at sea and critically ill, and also of the metaphor of troubled waters, for anyone who has looked despair in the face, sought and found a kindly light to lead them on.
The full vocal score of Eternal Light: A Requiem is also available on 0571532306.
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