From East to West (A Christmas Anthem for SATB Chorus & Organ*), composed during the early summer of 2003, is the result of a 2003 commission from the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir (Eric Stark, Artistic Director), with support from the Lilly Endowment. The commission honors Charles Manning on the occasion of his 25th anniversary year as the Choir’s brilliant accompanist. From East to West received its World Premiere on 6 December 2003 by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir in St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Approximately six minutes in length, the four-stanza text used in From East to West was written in the fifth century by Coelius Sedulius. The original Latin hymn – intended for use during the Lauds office hour during the season of Christmas – is a lengthy alphabetic hymn (with each four-verse stanza beginning with a different letter of the alphabet). The English translation of the four stanzas that I have set is by the nineteenth-century hymn writer, John Ellerton, with further refinements graciously made by my Wake Forest University colleague, Robert Ulery, Jr.
Since the original text is a hymn, I began the compositional process for this commission by creating an original hymn tune and harmonization for the text. Although the anthem develops the primary melodic and harmonic materials of my original hymn tune and harmonization, the entire hymn setting is heard only once near the end of the piece.
From East to West opens with an organ introduction that presents the harmonic backdrop for the entire anthem as it alternates between D and A-flat major tonalities. These tonalities are a tritone apart (the furthermost, foreign relationship in traditional tonality) and seek to symbolize the expanse of “East to West” and “shore to shore” that Christ’s birth and life sought to bridge. Octave dialogues between the soprano/tenor and alto/bass sections of the choir stately proclaim the first stanza text. A lyrical statement of the second stanza soon follows (“Behold, the world’s Creator”) with the dialogue idea now appearing between the four-part choir and organ. A brief development by the organ of the opening tritone idea bridges this section with the playful and dance-like third stanza (“And while the angels in the sky”). Choral dialogues resume, this time between the men’s and women’s sections of the choir. Exuberant and highly rhythmical music soon emerges, beginning with the fourth stanza Gloria (“All glory for this blessed time”). Then, in reverse order, each of the previous stanzas is revisited. After the main climax is reached over a vibrant organ pedal trill at the word “Amen,” the first stanza text is again heard as it appears in my original hymn setting. The piece’s opening material briefly returns in the organ and brings From East to West to a joyous close.
5 July 2003
*Optional brass quintet and percussion parts for From East to West were created in the autumn of 2005 for the Cathedral Choral Society (J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director) and premiered at Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC in December 2005.
From East to West
From East to West, from shore to shore,
let every heart awake and sing
the Holy Child whom Mary bore,
the Christ, the everlasting King.
Behold, the world’s Creator wears
a servant’s form and body true;
our very flesh our Maker shares,
his fallen creatures to make new.
And while the angels in the sky
sing praise above the silent field,
to shepherds poor the Lord most high,
the one Great Shepherd, is revealed.
All glory for this blessed time
to God the Father ever be;
O Virgin-born, all praise be thine,
all praise, O Holy Ghost, to thee. Amen.
Latin from the Liturgia Horarum
Coelius Sedulius (5th century, A.D.)
[trs. John Ellerton (1826-1893)
alt. Robert Ulery, Jr.]