• Geoffrey Burgon
  • First Was The World (1994)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Bank of England

  • 2(pic)2(ca)22/423(btbn)1/timp.2perc/hp/str
  • SATB
  • countertenor [=mezzo soprano]
  • 10 min

Programme Note

My first thought on receiving this commission was what sort of text would suit. Something on the general idea of growth - starting very small and blossoming was the obvious way to go, but it wasn’t until I found the Andrew Marvell poem Music’s Empire that I really got going. The poem is about the invention and development of music; this might sound a bit dry, but in fact it is both charming and dramatic, and it is also apt in that it can be set for both solo voice and chorus.

The other factor to be considered in writing this piece was the Purcell connection. Purcell wrote Come Ye Sons of Art in 1694, the year the bank was founded, and this piece is also included in the celebratory concert. So I wanted to include some homage to HP as well. Marvell’s poem is the sort of text that Purcell might have set had he come across it. It is a sort of Ode of text that Purcell might have set had he come across it. It is a sort of Ode to St Cecelia and he wrote one of those as we know. So I have referred to Purcell in two particular ways; I have quoted Come Ye sons of Art directly, and I have used the countertenor. Purcell himself sang countertenor in many of his own pieces, and wrote some of the most gorgeous music ever written for that voice. I also happened to love both Purcell’s music and the countertenor so writing this piece was really a labour of love.

It is scored for countertenor, mixed chorus and symphony of orchestra - rather larger than any orchestra that Purcell had access to as far as I know, but one in which I’m sure he would have revelled in given the opportunity. It is about ten minutes in duration.

Programme note © 1994 Geoffrey Burgon

Musicks Empire

First was the world as one great Cymbal made,
Where jarring winds to infant nature played;
All music was a solitary sound,
To hollow rocks and murmuring fountains bound.

Jobal first made the wilder notes agree,
And Jobal tuned Music's Jubilee;
He called the echoes from their sullen cell,
And built the organ's city where they dwell.

Each sought a consort in that lovely place,
And virgin trebles wed the manly bass,
From whence the progeny of numbers new,
Into harmonious colonies withdrew.

Some to the lute, some to the viol went,
And others chose the cornet cloquent.
These practicing the wind, and those the wire,
To sing man's triumphs, or in Heavens quire.

Then music, the mosiac of the air,
Did of all these a solemn noise prepare.
With which she gained the empire of the ear.
Including all between the earth and sphere.

Victorious sounds! yet here your homage do,
Unto a gentler conqueror than you:
Who, though he flies the music of his praise;
Would with you Heaven's hallelujahs raise.

Andrew Marvell