Three Choral Anthems
Instrumentation: Male Voices, Female Voices, Organ
'And I Saw a New Heaven': 4' 6"
'Set Thine House in Order': 6' 2"
'Have Mercy upon Me, O God': 7' 21"
The following anthems follow in a centuries-old lineage of sacred choral works that are built on the same principle – the pairing of a text with a Protestant chorale. Written primarily for novice singers, the choral parts are primarily split between male and female voices, and are almost always guided along by the organ.
Each of the settings reflect themes common in the Christian religion. The first anthem, ‘And I Saw a New Heaven’, reflects St. John’s vision of creation renewed and regenerated in a through-composed fashion, with the closing chorale (Herzlich tut mich erfreuen or ‘My Faithful Heart Rejoices’) expressing delight in the divine restoration to come. Musically, the piece shifts its tonality in response to the various phenomena John describes, with the initial musical material for each section being drawn from the different lines of the concluding chorale. The chorale itself is joyful and spirited, drawing its energy from the gigue-emulating rhythm and time signature.
The second anthem consists primarily of an alternation between two sections: the first, where God initially commands King Hezekiah to ‘Set Thine House in Order’– for he was to die soon – and the second, where the monarch reflects on his near-death experience after God reversed His decision. The setting of these two sections are contrasted musically as well: God's decree is set as a recurring refrain, with a fast tempo and reiterated shorter phrases. Hezekiah's musings, on the other hand, are set to slower and more lyrical melodies, thereby pitting itheir pensiveness against the refrain's assertiveness. The concluding chorale (Alle Menschen müssen sterben or ‘Hark, a Voice Saith, All are Mortal’) offers a more optimistic observation – death not merely as the end, but as a path to an eternity with God. This is done through the modal contrast between the final chorale and the previous text setting, offering a transition from despair to hope.
The third anthem starts out with a slow mournful section, mirroring the Psalmist’s entreaty to ‘Have Mercy upon Me, O God’. A faster and more insistent middle section depicts his urgency in asking for cleansing and forgiveness, before returning back to the opening musical material, where he proceeds to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over him. The final chorale (Wo soll ich fliehen hin or ‘O Whither Shall I Flee’) utilises the first verse to echo the same sentiment as the Psalmist and the second verse to point the listeners to the true source of grace in a post-crucifixion world: Jesus Christ. Thus it bridges the two prior sections musically with its moderate tempo and character, and conveys a final message: acknowledging their sin, the narrator also acknowledges Christ crucified as the ultimate font of mercy.
The pieces were written and published during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when much of Singapore was under a lockdown (the so-called 'circuit-breaker') between March and June. They are available for purchase online at Muziksea, a publisher dedicated to promoting the choral works of Southeast Asian composers (the link may be found here).