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Compositions

Music for unaccompanied choir

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Sonnet 8 (Music to Hear)

Setting of Shakespeare's exhortation to an unidentified young man to embrace the joys of married life.
Duration: c 3'30

SATB a capella, no divisi. First performance July 2015 by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain's Chamber Choir, conducted by Ben Parry as part of the City of London Festival. 

This recording was made live by Radio 3 at Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert by I Fagiolini directed by Robert Hollingworth  (included here by kind permission of the BBC and of the performers
www.ifagiolini.com)

Sonnet 8 - Music to Hear


"Shining bright harmonies in Janet Wheeler's Sonnet 8"
Jane Shuttleworth, Music in Durham

"the Sonnets, so musically rich in themselves, still bring out the best in word-setting...the touches of innovation in Janet Wheeler's Music to Hear"
David Nice, theartsdesk.com



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Gaudeamus Igitur
Setting of Kevin Crossley-Holland's exuberant poem celebrating the natural world
Duration: c 4'

Gaudeamus Igitur

This double-SATB choir setting was made at the poet’s suggestion in 2014.  Selected in March 2015 for the JAM Music of Our Time concert given by Selwyn College Chapel Choir directed by Nicholas Cleobury. 


This recording was made live by the University of London Chamber Choir directed by Colin Durrant (included here with their kind permission  www.ulchamberchoir.co.uk).

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Time becomes a song

Five choral settings of poems by John Clare
Duration: c 15mins

1. Clock-a-Clay
2. No Single Hour
3. O Wert Thou in the Storm
4. With Love Alone to Dwell
5. Little Trotty Wagtail

commissioned by OCR and the family of Alfred Tealby
SATB with divisions. Short solo passages in number 3 and optional solos in number 4.

“...There is the choral agility of Clock-a-Clay with the melting beauty of With love alone to dwell - both within her beautifully balanced John Clare settings Time becomes a song.”
Jeffrey Wynn Davies - MD Canzonetta Chamber Choir and Cranleigh Choral Week

"Janet Wheeler's Time becomes a song comprises five varied and characterful audience-friendly settings, showing a convincing relationship with language coupled with an effective command of choral textures."
Alan Bullard - Composer

“I only recently discovered Janet Wheeler's choral music and found it immediately appealing and well written. Her Song Cycle, Time Begins a Song for a cappella choir is challenging but very rewarding to sing. “
Nigel Perrin - Choral Director


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  Notes: Time Becomes a Song

This choral cycle was commissioned jointly by OCR and the family of Clare enthusiast Alfred Tealby. It was composed in 2009 as the centrepiece for a partnership project between OCR, the John Clare Trust and the Granta Chorale, called ‘Clare’s Calendar – Rhythms of a Rural Life’. It was first performed in the church in Glinton near Peterborough, where John Clare attended school. There have been many subsequent performances including at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and in St Mary’s Saffron Walden.

The original idea for this work came Alfred Tealby's family, who suggested that settings of John Clare settings would be a fitting memorial for him. The first and last poems were two of Alfred’s favourites – Clock-a-clay and Little trotty wagtail. In these light-hearted verses Clare shows his total absorption in the minute observation of two creatures, which are characterised in a friendly and anthropomorphic way. I have aimed to create equally light-hearted music.
Clock-a-clay (a country name for a ladybird) is set as a vaguely popular-style waltz, while Little trotty wagtail uses fast-moving descending accompaniment patterns to suggest a backwash of rain and the nimble movements of the bird.

The three central songs set poems on the theme of Clare’s first love, Mary Joyce. Though parted from her at an early age he later became convinced (in his confused state) that she was one of his wives. Though physically absent she was his ever-present muse. No single hour can stand for nought shows how the effort to hide his love for years and years seems to have made Clare express it all the more. The music contrasts a kind of ‘contained’ manner of expression with the violence of Clare’s feelings which refuse to be stifled. Again and again he can’t help himself expressing his love through his poetry.

O wert thou in the storm is a love poem inspired by a poem by Robert Burns:

O wert thou in the cauld blast,
On yonder lea, on yonder lea,
My plaidie to the angry airt,
I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee;
Or did Misfortune's bitter storms
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
Thy bield should be my bosom,
To share it a', to share it a'.

Robert Burns was one of several personae which Clare adopted in his long asylum years, writing many poems in Scottish dialect. The music of this setting keeps taking different turns towards resting places in different keys.

The fourth song With love alone to dwell uses a folk-inspired melody with a choral backing resembling a hypnotic incantation chanted over and over as a mantra-like comforting refrain. The theme is sung first by tenors and then by sopranos.

In composing these settings I felt the main challenges were to keep the musical language simple enough to match the direct expression in the words, and to translate Clare’s solo voice into the communal voice of a choir.

TEXTS

Clock-a-clay

In the cowslip's peeps I lye
Hidden from the buzzing fly
While green grass beneath me lies
Pearled wi' dew like fishes' eyes
Here I lie a clock-a-clay
Waiting for the time o' day

While grassy forests quake surprise
And the wild wind sobs and sighs
My gold home rocks as like to fall
On its pillar green and tall
When the pattering rain drives by
Clock-a-clay keeps warm and dry

Day by day and night by night
All the week I hide from sight
In the cowslip's peeps I lie
In rain and dew still warm and dry
Day and night and night and day
Red black-spotted clock-a-clay

My home it shakes in wind and showers
Pale green pillar topt wi' flowers
Bending at the wild wind's breath
Till I touch the grass beneath
Here still I live lone clock-a-clay
Watching for the time of day

No single hour (Clare's title is SONG)

No single hour can stand for nought
No moment-hand can move
But calendars an aching thought
Of my first lonely love

Where silence doth the loudest call
My secrets to betray
As moonlight holds the night in thrall
As suns reveal the day,

I hide it in the silent shades
Till silence finds a tongue
I make its grave where time invades
Till time becomes a song.

I bid my foolish heart be still
But hopes will not be chid
My heart will beat - and burn - and chill,
First love will not be hid.

When summer ceases to be green
And winter bare and blea -
Death may forget what I have been
But I shall cease to be.

When words refuse before the crowd
My Mary’s name to give
The muse in silence sings aloud
And there my love will live.

O wert thou in the storm

O wert thou in the storm
How I would shield thee:
To keep thee dry and warm
A camp I would build thee.

Though the clouds pour'd again
Not a drop should harm thee,
The music of wind and rain
Rather should charm thee.

O wert thou in the storm
A shed I would build thee;
To keep thee dry and warm,
How I would shield thee.

The rain should not harm thee,
Not thunder-clap harm thee.
By thy side I would sit me,
To comfort and warm thee.

I would sit by thy side love,
While the dread storm was over
And the wings of an angel
My charmer would cover.

With love alone to dwell

I wish I was where I would be
With love alone to dwell
Was I but her or she but me
Then love would all be well
I wish to send my thoughts to her
As quick as thoughts can fly
But as the wind the waters stir
The mirrors change and flye

Little trotty wagtail

Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain
And tittering tottering sideways he ne'er got straight again
He stooped to get a worm and looked up to catch a fly
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry

Little trotty wagtail he waddled in the mud
And left his little foot marks trample where he would
He waddled in the water-pudge and waggle went his tail
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail

Little trotty wagtail you nimble all about
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out
Your home is nigh at hand and in the warm pigsty
So little Master Wagtail I'll bid you a 'Good bye'.

 
   
   
 
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Stevie’s pets
Settings of three poems by Stevie Smith (used by permission of Hamish McGibbon)
Duration: 5'

1. My Cats
2. Death of the Dog Belvoir
3. Heber

“I am a long time admirer of Janet Wheeler's work. I directed Stevie's Pets a number of times in their original form. It was marvellous to hear them again, slightly reworked, on this impressive CD.”
Jeffrey Wynn Davies - MD Canzonetta Chamber Choir and Cranleigh Choral Week


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  Notes: Steve's Pets

I set these three poems of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) in 1980. The first details the ways in which she likes to tease her cats 'I like to toss him up and down…my cat Brown' '…pinch him on the sly…my cat Fry' and '…ruffle up his pride…my cat Hyde'. The second poem is a moving elegy for a baronet's dead pet, whose ‘coat was not more golden than [his] heart’. The final poem is based on the nursery rhyme ‘I love little pussy’: 'I love little Heber, his coat is so warm, And if I don't speak to him He'll do me no harm…' This is the jazziest of the three settings.

The poems are used by kind permission of Hamish McGibbon
 
   
   
 
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Alleluia, I heard a voice
(words from the Bible)
Duration: 4'

 

"It's up-beat style coupled with a sensitivity to the text means it sits as well in a summer concert of part-songs and spirituals as in Evensong"
Andrew Parnell

Janet Wheeler directed the singers in two of her own pieces. "Alleluia I Heard a Voice" should surely find a place in contemporary choral repertoires both at home and in America. "Homage to Albright" was especially successful, mixing choral improvisation based on written out fragments with spatial separation of sections of the choir - a real surround-sound performance!
David Parry-Smith

Wonderful singing last night, with many gorgeous 'early music' Alleluias, but for SWEM, paradoxically, the highlight was Janet Wheeler's very 21st century setting of 'Alleluia I heard a Voice'. Marvellous and mesmerising.
Donna Sharp - Saffron Walden Early Music


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  Notes: Alleluia, I heard a voice

This is a setting of Revelations 19, Verses 1 and 6 for unaccompanied mixed choir (SATB with some divided soprano). This biblical text is familiar from the well-known Renaissance setting by Thomas Weelkes. My setting begins with slow-moving contemplative music expanding from a unison C. The central part of the piece is more lively, sometimes syncopated, and is built around a series of ostinati, some of them in canon, in the lower and then middle voices. The ending returns to the opening music, converging on the unison C to finish.

Written in 2004, the piece has received many performances in the UK, France and Belgium by such choirs as QC Chamber Choir, the choir of Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, Saffron Walden Choral Society, Saffron Walden Singers and the Granta Chorale.

The St Albans-based choir Carillon performed it in Spring 2006, directed by Andrew Parnell.

Andrew says: "The choir and I enjoyed preparing and performing Alleluia, I heard a voice. Its up-beat style coupled with a sensitivity to the text means it sits as well in a summer concert of part-songs and spirituals as in Evensong."

Reviewing a performance by SWCS in June 2011, David Parry-Smith says: Alleluia, I heard a voice should surely find a place in contemporary choral repertoires both at home and in America.

Text
Alleluia, I heard a voice as of strong thunderings saying: Alleluia. Salvation and glory and honour and power be unto the Lord our God. And to the Lamb for evermore.
 
   
   
 
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Like a Red Red Rose
A capella arrangement of Robert Burns song ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ sung to its best-known tune. The texture is varied, featuring sections for TTBB and an optional tenor solo surrounded by sumptuous choral harmonies.
SATB with divisions in all parts.
Duration: 3'

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The joy as it flies
A cycle of five choral settings
Duration: c 13 mins

1. Invisible Sun (words by Sir Thomas Browne)
2. Elegy for Himself (words by Chidiock Tichborne)
3. Scherzo – Life is a Jest (the epitaph of John Gay)
4. Nothing Done (the epitaph of James Albery)
5. Eternity’s Sunrise (words by William Blake)

Numbers 1 and 5 include solos for soprano and baritone. Number 2 has an optional soprano solo.

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Notes: The Joy as it Flies

Originally planned as a cycle of epitaph settings, the brief broadened to include poems and texts in a similar vein. The themes of the sun, life, death and eternity weave in and out through the work. Adopting the title Scherzo for John Gay’s epitaph made me think of more classical forms, and suggested imposing a larger structure by returning to the music of the opening movement to finish the fifth song.

Invisible Sun is built from blocks of stacked up diatonic chords.

Elegy for himself was composed before the other movements and has been performed separately. It seemed fitting to include it.

Scherzo has an ostinato for split altos throughout, while the other parts deconstruct the words to resemble laughter.

Nothing Done sets the Epitaph which the playwright James Albery wrote for himself. It opens in the vein of a randomly improvised lullaby, using the vowel from Moon in the first line. Each of the first three lines is accompanied in this way by one of its vowels, in music which becomes more energetic, but which in keeping with the poem never properly arrives. Suddenly death interrupts and it’s all over with only a fleeting reminder of Albery’s various inactivities.

The words of Eternity’s Sunrise suggested two different musical characters – a rather obsessive and uncomfortable one alternating with fleet-footed and cheerful contrapuntal music. After both are heard twice, the music of the first song returns as another setting of the affirmative last line.

Texts

1. Invisible Sun
Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us

Sir Thomas Browne

2. Elegy for Himself
My prime of youth is but a frost of cares;
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain;
My crop of corn is but a field of tares;
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun;
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told;
My fruit is fall’n, and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent, and yet I am not old:
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen:
My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun;
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death, and found it in my womb;
I looked for life, and saw it was a shade;
I trod the earth, and knew it was my tomb;
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run;
And now I live, and now my life is done.
Chidiock Tichborne
Verses of Praise and Joy, 1586

3. Scherzo – the Epitaph of John Gay (1685-1732)
Life is a jest and all things show it
I thought so once and now I know it.

4. Nothing Done – the Epitaph of James Albery (1838-1889)
He slept beneath the moon,
He basked beneath the sun;
He lived a life of going-to-do
And died with nothing done.

5. Eternity’s Sunrise
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

William Blake

 
   
   
 
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Harlequinade - a suite for choir and optional dancers
SATB with divisions
Four songs on Commedia del'Arte characters. Lyrics for two of the songs are specially-written texts by Kaye Umansky and the other two are by the composer. The music lends itself to dancing but there is no set choreography.

1. Harlequin
2. Pierrot
3. Columbine
4. Pantaloon’s Song
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Care-charmer sleep

words by Samuel Daniel
A setting for SATB choir (with some divisions) and soprano solo
Duration: c 3 minutes

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Twickenham ferry

An a capella arrangement of a Victorian song

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O perfect Love
A wedding anthem for SATB or SAAB (c 3mins) words by Dorothy B. Gurney
Duration: c 3'

 

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Sing we noel
A Christmas Processional
Duration: 3'30"

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Wassail song for New Year
An a capella choral arrangement
Duration: 3'30"

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Welcome yole

A Christmas Processional
Duration: 1'20"

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Born is the Babe
Words traditional early 17th century
Carol for SATB (with some divided alto). The words make a strong link between Christmas and Easter

Duration 3'30"

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Just as I am
(Five Variants of Saffron Walden)
Unaccompanied SATB choir (with some divisions) Dedicated to Saffron Walden Choral Society
Duration: 5'

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  Notes: Just as I am

This miniature set of variations takes the hymn tune Saffron Walden in its original harmonisation as its theme and first verse. Thereafter each variant reharmonises it while maintaining the original melody in at least one part, though some phrases are stretched out a little. The first variant is a three part canon with the exact tune appearing first in the bass then the alto and finally in the first sopranos in inversion at the third. Variant 2 has the tune in the bass with sopranos and altos on a rocking accompaniment to the words 'Just as I am'. The remaining three variants become successively slower as the tune passes through the tenor then alto and finally soprano part with lush harmonies moving through many different keys.

The title of the piece is a reverential nod to Vaughan Williams' more expansive  Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus. These were written not for choir but for strings and harp but they were also founded on a hymn tune (albeit one which Vaughan Williams himself had derived from its many folk antecedents and relatives). 

Just as I am was composed for the concert MazeMusic, which was part of Music Nation, a countdown event to the London 2012 Festival. It is dedicated to Saffron Walden Choral Society.

 
   
   
 
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Four Spirituals
A medley of spirituals, featuring The Gospel Train, I stood on the river of Jordan, Wade in the water and Peter go rInga them bells for SATB choir with divisi. There are solo opportunities for several different voices. Published by OUP, this is now available from Banks Music price £2.55 --- BUY NOW >
Duration: 3'

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