Maurice Saylor: Composer

Alta Quies (1994)
Five songs for bass and piano to poems of A. E. Housman, 12 minutes

Written for bass
Vladimir Ekzarkhov, these songs were premiered at the The Church of the Epiphany in 2004 with Deke Polifka at the piano. The set went on to win both first prizes–art song and sacred song–at the 2005 Diana Barnhart American Song Conference.

I. Glorious Mother
II.Christians! To the War!
III.Oh Beautiful Thou Art

Score and recording

Program Notes:
The preface to the 1885 Catholic hymnal called Laudis Corona reads:

The tunes in this collection were selected by a lady in Baltimore. They have been arranged for the press by Prof. Francis A. Harkins, M.A., of Boston College. The object has been to give to Sunday Schools and Sodalities of youth something that ALL can sing. For this end the Christmas Carols and the May Hymns will prove particularly useful.

Boston: Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 4, 1880

The challenge of setting these texts to new music was to respect the piety and devotion of the authors but at the same time to recognize the way that Christianity has changed and with it, the language used to express religious devotion. "And thou, dark fiend, six thousand years / The bride of Christ in vain tormenting, / Shall find our hate and scorn of thee / Deep as thine own, and unrelenting…" Give that to your first-grade Sunday School class!

These hymn texts were written at a time when lofty language was the tradition. The composer has striven for settings which revel in the archaic phrases which sound purple to our ears but at the same time can be deeply moving. From the 146 hymns in Laudis Corona, five were painstakingly chosen; so far, three have been set. "Glorious Mother" was irresistible for the line, "Earth is darksome, we are weary, /Satan setteth snares for all."

Many of the major religious denominations published new hymnals in the 1980s and 1990s. Gender-exclusive language was revised, obsolete words and usages were updated to modern English, and some hymns with controversial subjects were taken out altogether. Such was the fate, for example, of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" in the Methodist hymnal, whose chorus reads: "Onward, Christian soldiers, /Marching as to war, /With the cross of Jesus /Going on before." Compared with "Christians! To the War!", those words are quite tame.

The text "Oh Beautiful Thou Art" is not attributed to an author; it seems to be a poetic English rendition of the traditional "Ave Maria" text. The new setting reflects the heartfelt devotion intended by the author.

–Maurice Saylor

Used by permission of The Society of Authors as the
Literary representative of the Estate A. E. Housman


The mill-stream, now that noises cease,
    Is all that does not hold its peace;
Under the bridge it murmurs by,
    And here are night and hell and I.

Who made the world I cannot tell;
    'Tis made, and here am I in hell.
My hand, though now my knuckles bleed,
    I never soiled with such a deed.

And so, no doubt, in time gone by,
    Some have suffered more than I,
Who only spend the night alone
    And strike my fist upon the stone.


The weeping Pleiads wester
    And the moon is under seas;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
    Far sighs the rainy breeze:

It sighs from a lost country
    To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
    And I lie down alone.


Good night. Ensured release,
    Imperishable peace,
Have these for yours.
    While sky and sea and land
And earth's foundations stand
    And heaven endures.

When earth's foundations flee,
    Nor sky nor land nor sea
At all is found,
    Content you; let them burn,
It is not your concern:


The rainy Pleiads wester,
  Orion plunges prone,
And midnight strikes and hastens,
  And I lie down alone.

The rainy Pleiads wester
    And seek beyond the sea
The head that I shall dream of
    That will not dream of me.



O thou that from thy mansion
    Through time and place to roam,
Dost send abroad thy children,
  And then dost call them home,

That men and tribes and nations
    And all thy hand hath made
May shelter them from sunshine
  In thine eternal shade:

We now to peace and darkness
    And earth and thee restore
Thy creature that thou madest
    And wilt cast forth no more.

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