The Windhover

for unaccompanied choir with bass solo

Liz Dilnot Johnson

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£6.49£8.19

for unaccompanied choir with bass solo

£8.19
£6.49
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Composer Liz Dilnot Johnson
Year of Composition 2020
Duration ca.8'
Instrumentation Choir, Bass
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-lj1tw1

Notes

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Lady Margaret Wall introduced me to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ extraordinary The Windhover – one of her late husband’s favourite poems. We had been searching together for a text that both summoned up an element of the dawn chorus and also had some personal connection with Sir Nicholas for this new Ex Cathedra commission.

As part of my preparation for composing this piece I set off before dawn in April, in search of the ‘windhover’ the country name for a kestrel. On the Malvern Hills there is a particular spot where our local kestrel often hovers, just between Summer Hill and the Worcestershire Beacon. Before first light at about 5.30am, I spotted it hovering on the wind, then stooping steeply down, diving onto its target with calculated precision. This level of skill and expertise sums up Sir Nicholas well, a man of great ability who was deeply admired for his profound impact on family justice and for pioneering a more interdisciplinary approach within the law.

Setting the words of this poem has been a true adventure for me. A muscular bass solo threads through the music, which includes wild kestrel calls and the sound of wind through feathers, leading to a climax at the lines ‘the fire that breaks from thee then… O my chevalier!’ Hopkins’ words not only conjure up the hawk, hovering and riding the wind at dawn, but also images of chivalric love and an evocation of the intense beauty of the day’s first light.

The opening sequence of chords maps out Sir Nicholas Wall’s name in musical notes, creating a sequence of subtly shifting harmonies capturing that magical moment of stillness just before sunrise.