• Kenneth Leighton
  • Symphony No. 2 'Sinfonia mistica' (1974)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 3(pic)2(ca)2(bcl)3/4331/timp.6perc/hp.pf.cel/str
  • Soprano, Baritone; SATB; org
  • SATB
  • soprano
  • 46 min
  • Donne, Traherne, Herbert, King & Medieval Anon
  • English

Programme Note

Symphony No. 2 (Sinfonia Mistica), Op. 69

1. Sonnet (John Donne)
2. Scherzo 1 (Medieval)
3. Meditation (Traherne)
4. Elegy (George Herbert)
5. Scherzo 2 (Henry King)
6. Finale (John Donne)

This work was composed during 1973 and 1974 and was the direct result of the death of my mother in 1973. It could be called a requiem or a meditation on the subject of death which usually comes so much more real to us in the second half of life.

The thought is symphonic (hence the title) and the words are chosen mainly from the English metaphysical poets who have been such a constant source of inspiration to British composers. I am grateful to the SNO for agreeing to print the words and these should make a perfectly adequate guide to the musical argument. I could also mention that the emotive hymn, The Shining River, composed in 1865 by the American Rev. Robert Lowry, is hinted at in the opening movement and stated in full by the chorus in the Finale. This powerful tune was also used in my Fantasy on an American hymn tune performed at the 1975 Edinburgh Festival.

© Kenneth Leighton

What if this present were there worlds last night?
Marke in my heart, O Soule, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whether that countenance can thee affright,
Teares in his eyes quench the amazing light,
Blood fills his frownes, which from his pierc'd head fell.
And can that tongue adjudge thee unto hell,
Which pray'd forgivenesse for his foes fierce spight?
No, no; but as in my idolatrie
I said to all my profance mistresses,
Beauty, of pitty, foulness onely is
A signe of rigour: so I say to thee,
To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assign'd.
This beauteous forme assures a pitious minde.

John Donne

Quando nasus frigescit
Facies pallescit
Oculi tenebrescunt
Aures surdescunt
Nervi et vene rumpuntur
Cor in duas partes dividitur

Then shall I go
From bed to floor,
From floor to shroud,
From shroud to bier,
From bier to pit
And be shut in it.
Then lies my house upon my nose
And all my care for this world goes.

Fascilulus Morum and 13th cent. English

O Lord!
Thou hast given me a body,
Wherein the glory of thy power shineth,
Wonderfully composed above the beasts,
Within distinguished into useful parts,
Beautified without with many ornaments.
Limbs rarely poised,
And made for Heaven:
Arteries filled
With celestial spirits:
Veins wherein blood floweth,
Refreshing all my flesh,
Like rivers:
Sinews fraught with the mystery
Of wonderful strength,
O blessed be thy glorious name!
That thou hast made it
A treasury of wonders.
Fit for its several ages;
For Dissections,
For Sculptures in Brass,
For Draughts in Anatomy,
For the contemplation of the Sages.

Thomas Trahern

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky,
The dew shall weep they fall tonight,
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue, angry and brave,
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.

Sweet Spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweet compacted lie,
My music shows ye have your closes,
And all must die…

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 streight called 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?

Shall we gather by the river,
Where bright angels feet have trod,
With its crystal tide for ever
Flowing by the throne of God.

Rev. Robert Lowry

Domini, domini sunt exitus Mortis. That which we call life is but HEBDOMADA MORTIUM, a week of death, seven days, seven periods of our life spent in dying, a dying seven times over; and there is an end.
Yes we will gather by the river
The beautiful, the beautiful river,
Gather with the saints by the river
That flows by the throne of God.

Our birth dies in infancy, and our infancy dies in youth, and youth and the rest die in age, and age also dies and determines all. Our youth is worse than our infancy, and our age worse than our youth. Our youth is hungry and thirsty after those sins which our infancy knew now; and our age is sorry and angry, that it cannot pursue those sins which our youth did; and besides, all the way, so many deaths, that is, so many deadly calamities accompany every condition and every period of this life, as that death itself would be an ease to them that suffer them.

Soon we'll reach the shining river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease,
Soon our happy hearts will quiver,
With the melody of peace.

When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

Yes, we'll gather by the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river…

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all.

John Donne


Symphony No. 2, Op. 69, "Sinfonia mistica in memoriam F.L.": I. Sonnet
Symphony No. 2, Op. 69, "Sinfonia mistica in memoriam F.L.": II. Scherzo
Symphony No. 2, Op. 69, "Sinfonia mistica in memoriam F.L.": Meditation
Symphony No. 2, Op. 69, "Sinfonia mistica in memoriam F.L.": IV. Elegy
Symphony No. 2, Op. 69, "Sinfonia mistica in memoriam F.L.": V. Scherzo II "Sic Vita"
Symphony No. 2, Op. 69, "Sinfonia mistica in memoriam F.L.": VI. Finale


Preview the score