Gwyneth Walker

Dazzling as the Sun

for SATB Choir and Organ (2004)

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Download an MP3 file of a performance of this work by the Philovox Choir of Boston, Jane Ring Frank, conductor.

Commissioned by the Downtown Minneapolis Churches for their Choral Festival, February 27, 2005.

Dazzling as the Sun is a setting of a celebratory text by Delores Dufner, OSB. The text focuses on images related to the Biblical Transfiguration, when Jesus was visited on the mountain by Moses and Elijah and was "transfigured" in blinding light. The text traces the Biblical preparation for the New Testament Transfiguration from the Old Testament and finally relates it to us today.

The anthem begins quietly with a single melody which gradually becomes flowing figurations, over which the choir enters. As the text traces the Biblical images forward, the music builds in energy until the final section when God's statement of "This is my beloved Son" returns while the music builds underneath it to a vibrant climax -- "dazzling as the sun."

Notes by Carson Cooman

Upon first reading of the poem, "Dazzling as the Sun" (by Delores Dufner, OSB), I formed several strong and central images. There is the image of "on high," as "the face of Jesus on the mountains." Perhaps, beyond this, is the view of God's love descending from heaven to earth, in the embodiment of Jesus.

There are also the images of radiance, whiteness and glory.

All of these images contribute to the uplifting nature of this poem. In the musical setting, therefore, I chose to use the Lydian mode (raised fourth step of the scale) throughout. The introduction delineates D Lydian, with a G# present. At m. 33, the movement to A Lydian has been achieved. And the climax of the music comes at m. 89 ("This is my beloved Son"), based on C Lydian.

While the accompaniment presents the uplifting elements (Lydian mode, opening interval up a 5th), the voices enter in descending scalar lines. Perhaps these phrases represent Jesus coming down from Sinai. Or, the voice of God reaching down from heaven.

The vocal lines are mostly stepwise. The first stanza of the poem is presented as the love of God descending from heaven. The second stanza ("Transfigured for disciples' eyes") is presented in a recitative-like manner, as in relating a prophesy.

A dramatic contrast arrives with the third stanza ("Then the cloud of presence"). Here is the voice of witness. Here is the love of God. "This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests." The chorus has the predominant role in expressing these words. The accompaniment is merely supportive.

These phrases represent the first climax of the anthem. The second, most powerful statement arrives at m. 89, when the concluding words of the poem ("destiny of glory") are combined with "This is my beloved Son." The tonal center of C (C Lydian) has been chosen for these passages due to the associations of purity and strength with this tonality. Yet the anthem concludes in A Lydian, a key with many sharps (or crosses). The final tone cluster may be interpreted as the "cloud of presence," or God's love surrounding humanity.

In performing this anthem, the singers would want to pay special attention to the dynamics and articulations. The first half of the piece must be kept subdued, except where growth for expressing the text is notated. Then, the climax in m. 52 will have dramatic effect. Similarly, the intermediary sections (rehearsal letters F, G and H) must be kept quiet, or growing with accordance to the dynamics in the score, in order for the large climax at Letter I to have maximum power.

This is a dramatic anthem. Contrast and expression are essential.

Notes by the composer