These three pieces for cello and piano are meditations – personal, secular and musical – on images from religious poetry.
The title of No. 1 Angels bending near the earth comes from a carol which begins ‘It came upon the midnight clear’ by the Massachusetts pastor and poet, Edmund Sears. The full reference is to “angels bending near the earth/to touch their harps of gold” and this is the inspiration for the music, with piano arpeggios swooping down over the rich central band of sound produced by the cello.
No. 2’s title, In death’s dark vale is a brief paraphrase (from a Scottish hymnal) of Psalm 23; the full quotation is “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. The image here is of human life lived against the prospect of impending death. The cello plays a hasty, self-absorbed continuo, whilst around it, piano motifs and chords of different height and depth create an evolving backdrop.
No. 3, O sapientia is the only movement which quotes a musical original; Hildegard of Bingen’s hymn O virtus sapientiae –“O strength of wisdom”. This is a calm, elegaic set of variations for the cello on Hildegard’s melody, accompanied by mostly bright, optimistic refl ections from the piano.
Commissioned by cellist Jonathan Miller of Boston, MA. First performance on 23 September 2016 at Hamilton Hall, Salem, MA by Jonathan Miller (cello) and Randall Hodgkinson (piano)