I Will Awake the Dawn for a cappella double choir was commissioned by the BBC in 1986 and I began work on it in September 1986 whilst living in the USA, finishing the composition in May the following year. The title comes from Psalm 108 (107 Vulgate) and can be translated either as 'I will awake at dawn' or 'I will awake the dawn'. The latter, a traditional but less accurate rendering of the original Hebrew, is the version I have used because it can imply that one is positively awakening the light within oneself. The music is in four continuous movements which are arranged so as to proceed from a state of despair and darkness to one of hope and light and there is an overall harmonic plan which mirrors this journey.
The first movement rises out of darkness, leading to descending soprano lines depicting wailing, while the basses sing the opening of Jeremiah's Lamentations, "How lovely sits the City…" After a tutti the music falls back to its initial note 'A' and a solo voice is heard crying "De profundis clamavi" ("Out of the depths I cry to Thee…"). Both choirs declaim in an anguished manner "Dominae exaudi vocem meam" ("Lord, hear my voice!"). The music then accelerates into the second movement which is quick and mostly wordless. Words from Psalm 67 (66 in the Vulgate) come and go; the mood is more hopeful: "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us". After a loud climatic chord the music subsides into the sustained third movement which sets part of Psalm 108 (107 in the Vulgate) and in which the major third plays a vital role as it will at the climax of the piece. Towards the ends there is an ascent to a soprano top 'A' which is left suspended. The fourth movement begins beneath this in the basses who sing a speeded-up version of the initial motif of the piece on the word "Hallelujah", an exclamation which is heard many times in this movement. More words from Psalm 108 are heard here too: "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Thy glory be all over the earth1" The music is fast and dancing and eventually reaches the resolution which it has sought from the first bar of the work. However, at the last minute, tenors and basses burst in with "Lord, hear my voice", disturbing the resolution both musically and textually and underlining the message of the hope rather than of optimism.
Commissioned by the BBC, I Will Awake the Dawn was first performed by the BBC Singers conducted by John Poole on 10th September 1987 in St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge in a BBC Promenade Concert.
Programme note by Robert Saxton