• Judith Weir
  • Two Human Hymns (1995)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the University of Aberdeen

  • org
  • SATB divisi
  • 7 min

Programme Note

TWO HUMAN HYMNS comprises settings for six-part choir and organ of two poems by 17th century English poets who are almost exact contemporaries; George Herbert and Henry King.

The music for the choir is mostly composed in simple songlike shapes, which are a little like hymns. The texts, though clearly relating to Christian beliefs, could be more widely applicable to all human experience, which is why I have called them 'Human Hymns'.

Thus, Love Bade Me Welcome (G.Herbert), whilst obviously a Christian allegory, can be read as a gently hypnotic love song, and I have tried to capture something of this atmosphere in my setting. Like to the Falling of a Star (H.King), although it mentions no God, could be a Calvinist sermon, capping its lovely account of the wonders of nature with an almost operatically sinister denouement. In the first half of the piece, the music bubbles upwards, fresh and optimistic; in the second half, like all those doomed sinners, it is going down, down, down.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Draw nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, gratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then will I serve.
You must sit downe, sayes Love and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat

George Herbert

Like to the falling of a Starre;
Or as the flights of Eagles are;
Or like the fresh springs gawdy hew;
Or silver drops of morning dew;
Or like a wind that chafes the flood;
Or bubbles which on water stood;
Even such is man, whose borrow'd light
Is straight call'd in, and paid to night.

The Wind blowes out; the Bubble dies;
The Spring entomb'd in Autumn lies;
The Dew dries up; the Starre is shot;
The Flight is past; and Man forgot.

Henry King

© Judith Weir


2 Human Hymns: No. 1, Love Bade Me Welcome
2 Human Hymns: No. 2, Like to the Falling of a Star