Iain Farrington

Pianist, organist, composer, arranger

An Old Belief for Choir and Organ

An Old Belief is a seven movement work for choir and organ, setting religious texts from the Bible, Christina Rossetti and anonymous 16th century. Listen to the work here:

1. A Summons: My God, why hast thou forsaken me

2. A Prayer: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills

3. A Plea: Save me, O God

4. A Nativity: Sweet was the song

5. A Humiliation: Crown you with garlands

6. A Confrontation: In my distress I called upon the Lord

7. A Farewell: Give me Jesus

The work consists of settings of religious texts, predominantly taken from the Psalms, as well as poetry by Christina Rossetti and from the 16th century. The language used is deliberately archaic, to evoke a distant past, while the music is full of present doubts, fear, anger, and hope. It was composed shortly after the death of my mother, and the work deals directly with the subject of religious faith in times of crisis. The opening movement is a summons, an angry cry to God for help and mercy. A quiet prayer follows, which seems to be a lonely attempt at reassurance. The mood is quickly dispelled with an urgent, desperate and weary plea for help. An element of hope is found in a depiction of the Nativity, representing human love, birth and childhood. This hope is extinguished with a humiliation, celebration being replaced by disillusionment. As a direct response, there is an angry confrontation, full of furious questions, the only response being a defiant outburst from the organ. Finally, there is a peaceful setting of the spiritual Give me Jesus, a gesture towards faith in humanity, and as a farewell to our loved ones.

The piece was commissioned for Twickenham Choral Society by Alan Brookes, a member of the choir for many years. The commission was a 'thank-you' gift to the choir for enjoying numerous outstanding concerts, as well as for the support of new works. A request was for a piece that included a setting of Psalm 121, a psalm that holds a special place for Alan as a memorial for his parents, and for childhood associations with Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire. The work was first performed by Twickenham Choral Society, conducted by Christopher Herrick with the composer (organ) on 25th March 2013.


1. A Summons

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (from Psalm 22)

My God, my God, have mercy on my sin, For it is great; and if I should begin To tell it all, the day would be too small To tell it in. My God, Thou wilt have mercy on my sin. (Christina Rossetti)

2. A Prayer

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. (Psalm 121)

3. A Plea

Save me, O God.

I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.

I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.

Hear me, O Lord. (from Psalm 69)

4. A Nativity

Sweet was the song the Virgin sung,

When she to Bethlem was come,

And was deliver’d of a son,

That blessed Jesus hath to name.

Lullaby, lullaby, ‘Sweet Babe’, sang she.

‘My Son and eke a Saviour born,

Who hast vouchsafed from on high

To visit us that were forlorn,

Lulla, lulla, lulla.’

Lullaby, lullaby, ‘Sweet Babe’, sang she.

And sweetly rocked him on her knee. (Anon.)

5. A Humiliation

Crown you with garlands,

Set your lamps burning,

Set you to singing,

For Christ comes.

Is this the Face without a flaw,

The Face that is the Face of Love?

Yea, this defaced,

Hath all creation’s love sufficed,

This Face the Face of Jesus Christ. (Christina Rossetti)

6. A Confrontation

In my distress I called upon the Lord,

And cried unto my God,

Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?

How long wilt thou hide thy face from us?

Hear me O Lord,

Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death. (from Psalms 18, 10, 13)

7. A Farewell

Oh I heard my mother say,

Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus,

You may have all this world,

Give me Jesus.

In the morning when I rise,

Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus,

You may have all this world,

Give me Jesus.

Oh when I come to die,

Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus,

You may have all this world,

Give me Jesus. (African American Spiritual)

Total Duration: 25 minutes

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