My setting of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence was first commissioned and premiered as part of a 2001-2003 Composer Residency I held at The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francisco, CA).
Iʼve always found the traditional melody associated with this hymn to be strangely compelling – my piece starts with this melody over a hushed vocal drone to underscore its unique beauty. After this brief introduction, I set each subsequent verse in a slightly different variation, creating a kind of musical narrative that shadows the text in describing an ascent towards the Godhead (not unlike Danteʼs Paradiso, I suppose). The climax of the piece comes at verse four when the hymn describes the angelic host of heaven singing praise to God.
Realizing the futility of trying to recreate what this might actually sound like, the music I created for this section uses four soloists singing cascading vocal lines that are static (mirroring the unceasing praise of the angels) in ambiguous major/minor patterns. Since we canʼt possibly envision such a heavenly scene, I created music that likewise doesnʼt really fit our perception of traditional major/minor tonalities.
At the end of the piece the original melody and first verse are restated, as if the observer is given the chance to re-sing this beautiful melody after contemplating the divine. The Alleluiaʼs at the climax come back, but this time they are presented with a kind of hushed reverence that comes after participating in a religiously cathartic experience.
Iʼve always felt a special connection to this piece, and I hope you enjoy it.