"In 2014 I was asked by Lady Suzi Digby to write a piece for her new choir, ORA. The brief basically said, "we'd like you to write a reflection on the Sanctus and Benedictus from William Byrd's Mass for 5 voices". That was a piece that i'd sung as a chorister, and I knew really really well, and I was really pleased that it was those two movements as I loved the arching musical phrases. Quickly I scouted around for a text. I have quite a lot of poetry at home but I couldn't really find anything that I thought fitted. So, I ended up actually going to a charity shop in Bristol, near the concert hall, St George's, and there I picked up a fantastic book of contemporary poetry, and it contained work by Kathleen Raine. This poem was called 'The World' and I find it a fascinating work cause she uses very few words: 'Void', 'burning', 'travels' and 'stillness'; and they're all slightly changed each time they come back to create a web of themes. And that really struck a chord with me.
The simplicity of the poem enabled me to be quite free. I also set some of the vowels from William Byrd's piece, so there's a mixture of humming, vowels and the text, and all of these combined to create a sort of 'other-worldly' texture. 'Upheld By Stillness'; the whole world just being gently travelling in space. And that's kind of how I saw William Byrd's 'Sanctus' and 'Benedictus', the way that the lines open out and keep calling to each other throughout the piece.
UPHELD BY STILLNESS
A reflection on the Sanctus and Benedictus of Byrd’s 5-part Mass
I was instantly drawn to Kathleen Raine’s The World when looking for a text for this reflection. It’s themes perfectly corresponded with my idea of Byrd’s Sanctus being an expansive, continually evolving work. It is a fascinating poem, manipulating only six ideas but creating an effortless circle of themes, interweaving and inextricably linked. Elements of the poem are reflected in this piece as well as melodic lines from Byrd’s original composition, which are often set against a backdrop of shimmering chords. Whilst composing this piece, I kept the part books of the mass in my sightline, constantly influencing the shapes and contours of the music. There is a sense of travel in the continuous humming, often linking sections as themes are passed around the voices. The Hosanna section was written borrowing just the open vowels of the original text to create a warm, engulfing sound. This idea is heard twice in the piece, the second time returning elongated and more joyous.
Owain Park is a prize-winning composer, published by Novello. His music has been performed across the world, by ensembles including the Tallis Scholars, the Aurora Orchestra and the Norwegian Soloists Choir. Recent works include Shakespeare Songs of Night-Time for Stephen Layton and the Holst Singers, and Beati quorum via, commissioned by the Wells Cathedral Chorister Trust for The Countess of Wessex. This season, The Wings of the Wind has been included by The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge in their tour programme to the United States. His compositions have won awards from organisations including the National Centre for Early Music, and his music has been broadcast on BBC Radios 3 and 4, and Classic FM.
Owain is also a conductor, singer and organist. He conducts The Gesualdo Six, a male-voice ensemble specialising in early music, but also performing works as diverse as Ligeti’s Nonsense Madrigals. Recent projects have included two series of Bach Cantatas, Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas and Mozart’s Requiem. Holding the FRCO diploma, Owain is currently Senior Organ Scholar at Trinity College Cambridge and was formerly Senior Organ Scholar at Wells Cathedral. To find out more, please visit:
"I remember the first time I heard that piece, and it was that recording, I had never heard it in a concert. And I was blown away by the beauty of the singing. The music from William Byrd, I can hear running through the piece; it was an amazing process to go back 400 years and re-work with, some of the music that I grew up singing as a chorister, in a new light, finding my own compositional voice in the process..."
Owain Park, BBC Radio 3, May 2018