Gwyneth Walker

Purer than Purest Pure

for SATB Chorus (2023)

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Download an MP3 file of a performance of this work by the Harvard Univesrity Choir, Edward Elwyn Jones, conductor.

Download a PDF file of the score of this composition.

Commissioned by the Memorial Church of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 114th Annual Christmas Carol Services and premiered by the Harvard University Choir, Edward Elwyn Jones, Gund University Organist and Choirmaster

This poem by E. E. Cummings creates several images which specifically inspire the musical setting. The opening phrases speak of purity--a pure child, a child of innocence. Thus, the music starts on "middle C" in the pure key of C major. The sparseness of pitches from the voices offer purity of sound.

The choir then bounces on the words childfully serious (perhaps a contradiction unto itself!).

A favorite image of the composer is a pilgrim from beyond the future's future. Here, the child (the Christ Child) is seen as coming to earth from afar-from the Father in Heaven, or, in 21st-century reference, as a space traveler.

Thus, as the poem closes with the words and every world, before silence begins a star, we are reminded of the Heavenly distance from which the child/pilgrim is traveling.

This reverence of the child extends into a version (lyrics adapted by composer) of the familiar hymn, "O Jesu Sweet." The connection to the Cummings poem comes in the common imagery of a holy flame, and in the closing lines a star, a star, a star... a pilgrim from afar.

Notes by the composer