Commissioned by Gonville & Caius College and the University of Cambridge to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the University. First performed by the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, directed by Geoffrey Webber with Annie Lydford (organ), in Caius College Chapel on Sunday 17th May 2009.
Winner of a British Composer Award in 2010 (Liturgical category).
Psalm No. 1 for SATB choir and organ was commissioned by Gonville & Caius College to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University. It was first performed by the Choir of Gonville and Caius, directed by Geoffrey Webber with Anne Lydford (organ) on 17 May 2009. The uncompromising text presents a stark opposition between the righteous man, whose observance of the Law allows him to flourish like a tree and prosper in all he does, and the ungodly who are like chaff driven away by the wind, and who will inevitably perish. This furnishes the basis for a dramatic two-part structure. First we have the pellucid diatonicism of the first section, where the organ’s single long-held chord symbolises both stability and sufficiency, the voices flowing and flowering lyrically into the comparison with the tree, with useful growth. But from the first mention of them, the ungodly (sung parlando rather than cantabile) are forces of dissonance with their leaping minor ninths, tending to separate into a host of conflicting parts, the familiar chromatic choral metaphors for the wind that disperses them an obverse to the righteous’s flowering tree. The final verdict that they shall perish is delivered with extraordinary force (‘rising to a virtual scream’ is the composer’s direction) and this time it is the organ that sinks away into silence and darkness, as if bearing them off into a yawning pit.