for mixed voices a cappella (Euros Bowen)
Hyn (This) is a setting of a poem by Welsh writer Euros Bowen (1904-1988). While on sabbatical for the school year 2009-2010 I was planning to write a number of pieces for my colleagues at the University of Louisville School of Music, including one for the choir and its director, Kent Hatteberg. I was having difficulty finding a text, but finally while traveling in Wales I came across this poem in the booklet for a CD, also entitled Hyn, by the Welsh traditional group, Carreg Lafar. They don’t do a musical setting of it themselves, but use it as a sort of extended epigraph for the CD.
Bowen was educated in Wales and later at Oxford, becoming an Anglican priest and holding various posts until his retirement. He was active in the Welsh language movement, and twice won the Bardic Crown at the National Eisteddfod of Wales (the most important of the many Welsh poetry competitions). He wrote in Welsh, but also provided English versions of most, if not all, of his poems. I was tempted to try to set the Welsh, but reluctantly decided that it would put too many obstacles in the way of performances, at least outside of Wales.
The piece begins with a simple chordal setting of the first four lines. After that, in a faster section, short motives are tossed around the choir. Then, the choir divides into two semi-choruses, with one recapping the opening chordal music, while the other continues developing the short motives.
After a buildup, the music returns to a slower tempo for the main climax. Finally there is a brief coda, which returns us to both the opening words of the poem and the E-major chord of the first sonority.
I would like to thank Carreg Lafar member Rhian Evan Jones, who put me in touch with Dafydd Iwan, president of Sain Records, and an important figure in Welsh politics as well as music, who in turn devoted a certain amount of time and effort to locating Huw Bowen, son of the poet, who then kindly gave me permission to set Hyn for this piece of music. None of them had anything to gain from the time expended aiding a Yank composer they had almost certainly never heard of, but they were unfailingly gracious and helpful, nonetheless, reinforcing the already high opinion I had of Welsh friendliness.