Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs Baritone – Thomas Allen

Anthony Giles

In early January 1997, I joined the sanctuary choir at First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kent, Washington.  This might seem like a strange choice for me to have made, given the differences between my world-view and that of the church.  I had been seduced, however, by the quality of the choral music at First EPC under choir director Anthony Giles.  Although I had never sung in a choir before, the more I listened to Anthony’s choir, the more I wanted to be a part of making music, not just listening to it.

It was a decision I have never regretted; in fact, I wish I had made it years earlier.  Under Anthony’s direction, I finally had the opportunity to make music, and lots of it.  I have sung many glorious anthems and some of the great works of choral literature, including Handel’s Messiah, Poulenc’s Gloria, Faure’s Requiem, Bach’s Magnificat, as well as the work featured on this video, Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Five Mystical Songs are all taken from the work of the English poet George Herbert (1593–1633).  Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), another Englishman, set four of Herbert’s poems to music in 1911, and our choir performed this work at a Good Friday service in 1998.  This video, recorded in 2004, features baritone Thomas Allen with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

Late last month, Anthony announced to the choir that he has accepted a teaching position at International School Bangkok.  He will be leaving in July, and expects to be in Thailand for two years.  Beyond that, it is impossible to know what the future holds.  Perhaps he will return to First EPC, and take up his baton again… but perhaps not.

In any case, Anthony, for all I have learned in the thirteen years I have been singing for you, and for all the joy that singing has brought me, thank you from my heart.

1. Easter
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may'st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just. 

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day. 

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

2. I Got Me Flowers
I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought'st thy sweets along with thee. 

The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and the East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume. 

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

3. Love bade me welcome
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything. 

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
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, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

4. The Call
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

5. Antiphon
Let all the world in every corner sing,
My God and King!

The heavens are not too high,
His praise may thither fly:
The earth is not too low,
His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in every corner sing,
My God and King!

The church with Psalms must shout.
No door can keep them out:
But above all, the heart
Must bear the longest part.

Let all the world in every corner sing,
My God and King!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m sorry, in my first comment I only gave you a link to the blog – the actual article I wanted you and Anthony to see about Allegri’s Misere is at this URL:
    I am just a folk singer/guitarist of 40 years but enjoy all kinds of music. My musicological insights may not be up to academic levels you may be used to, but it comes from the heart. Thanks!

  2. Tim, thank you for your comment, the link, and for the insights you share on your blog!


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