• Robert Saxton
  • At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners (1992)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by St Paul's Cathedral for the opening concert of the 1992 City of London Festival

  • 5 min
  • John Donne
  • English

Programme Note

AT THE ROUND EARTH'S IMAGINED CORNERS was written in March this year in response to a commission from Michael Kaye for the opening of the City of London Festival. John Scott sent me John Donne's great poem, the opening three lines of which had been in my mind when I wrote my Henry Vaughan-inspired chamber orchestra piece THE RING OF ETERNITY in 1982 - so, a decade later, came the opportunity to set the poem in its entirety, to be sung in the Cathedral which stands on the site of Old St Paul's of which Donne was Dean from 1621 until his death in 1631.

The poem is a sonnet, with the normal break after the eight of the fourteen lines. The first part is set for nine-part a cappella choir and begins over a pedal-note A, the music representing the round earth and its imagined corners (the clashing Bb sung by the basses). It develops in a dramatic fashion, the trebles at first representing the angel's trumpets. The music, while being harmonically directional, is largely polyphonic or 'layered'. The second part matches Donne's change of mood - the drama and vision of Resurrection gives way to a personal prayer by the sinner. The choir is now in eight parts and the texture is predominantly homophonic as the text moves from 'But let me sleep Lord' to the final 'As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood'. The initial A of the anthem has flowered into full-blooded A major, representing the fulfilment and hope of salvation for which Donne pleads so powerfully and eloquently.

The anthem is dedicated jointly to John Scott and the Choir of St Paul's Cathedral and to my partner, Teresa Cahill, for whom St Paul's means so much.

© Robert Saxton, May 1992