This piece was commissioned by French-Chinese composer Qigang Chen, whose Gong Geng college runs a Summer camp for rural children to study music with superb teachers and perform with wonderful players. The college is situated in the remote Zhejiang countryside–so remote, that one can only access it by boat. I have been lucky and privileged enough to be able to attend his legendary composition workshops twice, and they were truly life-changing experiences for me.
This was my first original composition for children’s choir, and it was a daring decision to choose such a difficult (intractable, even) poet as Hopkins to set to music, especially for children for whom English is not their mother tongue. I have adapted his “curtal sonnet”, rearranging his lines into a shorter form, preserving the rhymes which aid memorisation, but with plentiful repetition to reduce the burden of learning for the children.
I wanted to introduce Chinese children (and the university students) to a harmonic and gestural language associated with early twentieth century British music, and made a deliberate study of the harmonic “moves” that Finzi and Howells often make in their pieces. In particular I studied Finzi’s “I said to Love”, and Howells “Take him, earth, for cherishing” and the requiem.
The conductor of this performance is my beloved conducting teacher from my days at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Chen Lin.
Video of the performance in Lishui Grand Theatre:
Glory be to God for dappled things.
Glory be for chestnut falls and finches’ wings.
Glory be to God for dappled things,
Glory be to God for finches’ wings,
For skies of coupled-colour as a brinded cow,
For fold fallow and plough.
Glory be to God, for stipple on trout that swim,
Glory be for all things strange, whose beauty is past change.
Glory be for stipple on trout that swim
Glory be for trades, their gear and trim,
All things counter, strange,
He fathers forth, whose beauty is past change.
[Text adapted from Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim:
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise him. ]