These settings were written to a commission from the Southern Cathedrals Festival and first performed in Salisbury Cathedral on 24 July 1976 by choirs of Salisbury, Winchester and Chichester Cathedrals with the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble, conducted by Richard Seal.
The rhythmic elasticity and freedom of the poem matches the vividness of its images and the freshness of the poetic language: it is like light playing on water. In this setting for choir and brass phrases for trumpets and then voices- ‘Glory to be God’- Alternate with more meditative moments- ‘who knows how?’. The contrast of the poem- ‘swift, slow – sweet, sour- a dazzle, dim‘ quick changes from sunshine to shadow- are mirrored in the music.
The stillness and serenity of this poem, one of Hopkins’ earliest, is in direct contrast to the other. ‘Out of the swing of the sea’, to a gently rocking figure, runs as a sort of undercurrent through the piece. At the end this figure combines with a motive in thirds, (heard quietly on the trumpets at the opening) and expands slowly, with the choir in eight parts, before dying away into silence.