The Spacious Firmament (Anthem for SATB Double Chorus, a cappella) was composed in July of 2009. It is dedicated to the Music Program of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Indianapolis, Indiana) and its leaders, Frank W. Boles (Organist and Associate for Music) and Edie Johnson (Assistant Organist/Choir Director).
The text is by the English poet, Joseph Addison (1672-1719), and was originally titled, Hymn. The “father of English hymnody,” Issac Watts, thought highly of Addison, calling him “the most authentic judge of fine thought and language that our age has produced.” This Addison hymn first appeared in print in the August 23, 1712, issue of The Spectator, at the end of an article by Addison entitled, An Essay on the Proper Means of Strengthening and Confirming Faith in the Mind of Man. It is based on Psalm 19, vs. 1 – 6.
My setting of Addison’s words is full of dialogue throughout between the divided choirs. A relatively short middle section at the words, “What though in solemn silence all,” briefly stills the vibrant pace. However, the rhythmic energy soon returns, propelling the anthem toward its climax at the hymn’s final line, “The Hand that made us is divine.”
Duration : ca. 2’ 45”
The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied Sun from day to day
Does his Creator’s power display;
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The Moon takes up the wondrous tale;
And nightly to the listening Earth
Repeats the story of her birth:
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball;
What though nor real voice nor sound
Amidst their radiant orbs be found?
In Reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice;
For ever singing as they shine,
“The Hand that made us is divine.”