• Kenneth Leighton
  • Fantasy on an American Hymn Tune (1974)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • cl.vc.pf
  • 18 min

Programme Note

This work was composed during the summer of 1974 and commissioned by Gervase de Peyer, William Pleeth and Peter Wallfisch with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

The famous and emotive hymn At the River was composed (both words and music) in 1865 by the Rev. Robert Lowry and it plays an important part in my Symphony No. 2 Opus 69. It has attracted the attention of a number of composers (Ives, Rubbra and Copland in his beautiful arrangement) and is one of the most perfect examples of the union of words and music. The tune revolves for the most part round the mediant, and it is only at the very end on the word “God” that it descends to the tonic. Thus this fantasy begins and ends with the tonic chord (here the chord of C major) and at various other points the music resolves on to the same chord.

There are six main sections.

1. A slow introductory section on a chromatic idea quite distinct from the hymn tune. Fragments of the tune do however appear in the course of the commentary on clarinet and cello.
2. A playful and rather ‘jazzy’ variation in which a whole section of the tune is used rather in the manner of a chorale prelude.
3. An intense and slower interlude, which concentrates on one single line of the tune with a second passionate commentary on clarinet and cello.
4. A second scherzoso section, freely based on the shape of the hymn-tune, but this time faster and building up to a clamorous climax.
5. A cadenza-like section permeated by trills and arpeggios.
6. A final slow movement in which the whole of the hymn-tune appears (partly on cello and partly on piano) as a very slow cantus firmus. The inner conflicts of the music are expressed towards the end in the opposition of chromatic clusters and the simple chord of C major.

© Kenneth Leighton

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