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Paean

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paean

for Mixed Chorus and Brass Quintet

I was absolutely delighted and challenged to be asked by Professor John Cox to compose a piece of music to be performed at the opening ceremony of the 2001 Mind Odyssey. It was decided early on that the piece should involve a chorus, drawn largely from alumni of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a brass quintet. Further ideas evolved that the lyrics should, if possible, in some way both celebrate and reflect the noble professions of Medicine, Psychiatry and the Arts.

After an exhaustive search and valuable help from Dr David Kingsley and Prof Cox, I settled on three lyrics from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The first ‘Sing to Apollo’ is a hymn of praise to “Physics, and to poesy’s king”, for indeed Apollo was the god of medicine, music and poetry. The lyric also includes the word “Paean”, traditionally a hymn of praise in ancient Greece, originating from Apollo’s title “Paiân” – the physician of the Gods. The word “Iô” is an exclamation of joy – like “hooray”, for example.

In contrast to the celebratory nature of ‘Sing to Apollo’, with its prominent parts for the brass, the second movement is largely unaccompanied, and is a gentle setting of Robert Greene’s ‘Sweet Are the Thoughts’, which persuasively promotes the benefits of cultivating peace of mind and a simple life-style. In 1592, two years after writing this charming lyric, Robert Greene revealed, in a famous attack on William Shakespeare, that he was deeply envious of the rival poet, calling him “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers that with his tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you”. So much for preaching that “a mind content both crown and kingdom is”!

The third movement sets Sir Walter Raleigh’s exquisite lyric ‘What is our life?’. Its frequent use of theatrical imagery is masterly: the womb becomes the “tiring” or “attiring” room where man is dressed for the “short comedy” of life, and the grave does service as a “drawn curtain when the play is done”.

I did not feel it appropriate to end the piece with those sombre thoughts, so devised a way where the celebratory mood of the opening Paean could return in a short and uplifting coda. Paean is dedicated to Professor John Cox with heartfelt gratitude for his help and encouragement.

GW

Sing to Apollo                                                                                                                                  John Lyly

from Midas (1592)

Sing to Apollo, god of day,

                                    Whose golden beams with morning play,
                                    And make her eyes so brightly shine,
                                    Aurora’s face is called divine.
                                    Sing to Phoebus, and that throne
                                    Of diamonds which he sits upon;
                                    Iô, paeans let us sing,
                                    Iô, garlands let us bring,
                                    To physic’s, and to poesy’s king.

Sweet Are the Thoughts                                                                                                           Robert Greene

from Farewell to Folly (1590)

Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content;

                                    The quiet mind is richer than a crown;
                                    Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent;
                                    The poor estate scorns Fortune’s angry frown.
                                    Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss,
                                    Beggars enjoy, when princes oft do miss.
                                    The homely house that harbours quiet rest,
                                    The cottage that affords no pride nor care,
                                    The mean that ‘grees with country music best,
                                    The sweet consort of mirth and music’s fare,
                                    Obscuréd life sets down a type of bliss;
                                    A mind content both crown and kingdom is.

What is Our Life?                                                                                                                            Sir Walter Raleigh

from Orlando Gibbons’s First Set of Madrigals and Motets (1612)

What is our life? A play of passion.

                                    Our mirth, the music of division,
                                    Our mother’s wombs the tiring-houses be,
                                    Where we are dressed for this short comedy.
                                    Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is,
                                    That sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
                                    Our graves that hide us from the searching sun
                                    Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
                                    Thus march we playing to our latest rest,

Paean

Composer

Guy Woolfenden

Lyrics

John Lyly, Robert Greene & Sir Walter Raleigh

Duration

10 minutes

Date of publication

2001

First performance

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London on 9th July 2001
for the launch of 2001: A Mind Odyssey
The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Choir & The Real Brass
conducted by David Kingsley

Commissioner

The Royal College of Psychiatrists

ISMN
  • 979-0-57009-649-7 [Vocal score]
  • 979-0-57009-647-3 [Complete set]
  • 979-0-57009-648-0 [Full score]
No. of Pages

24 [vocal score], 48 [full score]

Instrumentation

SATB & Brass Quintet

Full instrumentation
S-A-T-B
2 Trumpets in B flat
Horn in F
Trombone
Tuba
S A T B

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