Accompanied Choir

To The Atlantic2018
children's choir and piano5 minutes
Premiered by Liverpool Philharmonic Children’s Choir, Melody Makers, Resonate Youth Philharmonic and Everton Junior Philharmonic, conducted by Rod Skipp, on 8 July 2018 at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
programme note
Ian Stephens: To the Atlantic
To the Atlantic was commissioned by Liverpool Philharmonic for a joint concert of the organisation’s junior choirs (Liverpool Philharmonic Children’s Choir and Melody Makers) and the orchestras of In Harmony Liverpool (Resonate Youth Philharmonic and Everton Junior Philharmonic). I set a text by the wonderful Liverpool poet Roger McGough, whose poetry shot to prominence with The Mersey Sound in 1967. The poem is titled ‘Gateway to the Atlantic’, and explores Liverpool’s relationship with the sea.
Salisbury Service: Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis2016
SATB choir and organ15 minutes

Premiered by by the Salisbury Cathedral Choirs and organist John Challenger, conducted by David Halls, Salisbury Cathedral, 19 November 2016.
buy sheet music here
programme note
Ian Stephens: Salisbury Service
Magnificat Nunc Dimittis
I have known Nick and Eleanor Steinitz for many years, through our association with Pigotts Music Camp, an inspirational place in the Chiltern Hills. My music came to their attention through some of the works that I’ve performed there with friends. It must have made a favourable impression as they then approached me with this commission for an Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for Salisbury Cathedral.
Salisbury Service is in memory of their son Chris, who had been a chorister at Salisbury. I never had a chance to meet Chris, but he was about my age and was known by many of my friends. I would have loved to have known him. Nick and Eleanor asked for the work to be more a celebration than a doleful piece of remembrance, and I have kept this in mind while writing the piece.   I am inevitably aware of the many wonderful previous settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and I have taken the opportunity to acquaint – and in some cases reacquaint – myself with some of these. So while the varied and ever-evolving world of Anglican church music is an important reference point, it is balanced with my own individual compositional style, itself an almost indefinable bunch of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic tics that I find myself turning to again and again.
I am grateful in particular to Ian Tracey, organist of Liverpool Cathedral, for his invaluable help with the organ registrations, to David Halls for agreeing to take on the first performance, and above all to Nick and Eleanor Steinitz for the faith they have in my ability to carry out this precious commission.
David Halls on Salisbury Service
“I was really pleased with the way my choristers and men rose to the challenges of this work. At first sight, it seemed to be very complicated but as we grew to understand and learn it, we were able to discern its stylistic unity and the composer’s particular way of writing for voices. It meant that the Salisbury Service was easier than it looked and, once we had mastered a section, that section really stuck in the memories of the choir members. The organist had a lot of fun with the detailed organ writing too.” (David Halls, Director of Music, Salisbury Cathedral)
On Goes the River: Three Songs of Childhood2015
SA choir and piano, or SA choir, oboe, string quartet, double bass, piano16 minutes
Premiered by the Senior and Chamber Choirs and Instrumental Group of Finchley Children’s Music Group, and pianist John Evanson, conducted by Grace Rossiter, 14 November 2015 at St Pancras Church, Euston Road, London.
  buy sheet music here
programme note
On Goes the River: Three Songs of Childhood
The Wind
Where Go The Boats?
I have known Nick and Eleanor Steinitz for many years, through our association with Pigotts Music Camp, an inspirational place in the Chiltern Hills. My music came to their attention through some of the works that I’ve performed there with friends. It must have made a favourable impression as they then approached me with this commission for a piece for children’s choir in memory of their daughter Corinna, who had tragically died at the age of six many years before.
The Steinitzes and I settled on three poems: the over-the-top cautionary tale ‘Matilda’ by Hilaire Belloc framed by two more wistful poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘The Wind’ and ‘Where Go The Boats?’
The setting is for upper voices and piano, with an optional sextet of oboe, string quartet and double bass; the piece can either be performed just with choir and piano, or with choir, piano and sextet.
Grace Rossiter, the conductor, kindly wrote some words about the piece after the first performance:
“The young singers and instrumentalists from the Finchley Children’s Music Group thrived on the challenges offered by Ian Stephens’ piece, On Goes the River: Three Songs of Childhood. They enjoyed singing the well-chosen poetry, which was beautifully set, offering a full range of mood and colour to explore in rehearsal and in performance.  The vocal writing was pitched at the appropriate level of difficulty for the choir (boy trebles and girls aged 9 – 18 yrs, SSAA), which was appreciated by the singers.  It can be hard to musically engage every singer given the age range, but Ian Stephens managed to achieve this with his clever and sensitive writing, fully exploiting the sounds available to him.  The punchy and humorous vocal lines in the 2nd movement were perfectly sandwiched between two more reflective and moving settings.  Again, this variety of mood and style was something the choir thoroughly enjoyed.  It made for a much variation during rehearsals, and a powerful performance during our concert programme.
I had asked Ian Stephens to write a piece that also offered the opportunity for the gifted instrumentalists within the choir to shine. Again, he found the right level of difficulty for these players in On Goes the River. The players rehearsed the work chorally in addition to their separate ensemble rehearsals, so they knew the piece for both angles. We have on occasion performed other works with an ensemble taken from within the choir (eg Britten’s St Nicolas), and so it was fantastic to have a piece written for us in this way.  The choir members were delighted to have a piece tailored for them in this way.
We look forward to future performances of the work.  It sits very easily around a wide range of choral repertoire and, as the instrumental lines are optional, it is possible to perform the short cycle as a choral work with piano accompaniment alone. Equally, I feel all three movements would successfully stand alone as part of a concert programme.”
Grace Rossiter (Musical Director, Finchley Children’s Music Group)
Sailor’s Carol / Gàir na mara2015
solo fiddle, youth choir, mixed choir, symphony orchestra4 minutes

Premiered by Kathryn Tickell (solo fiddle), Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Ian Tracey, 17 December 2015, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
youth choir text: traditional Scots Gaelic
mixed choir text: Charles Causley
programme note
Ian Stephens: Sailor’s Carol / Gàir na mara
Sailor’s Carol / Gàir na mara was commissioned by Liverpool Philharmonic for performance at the 2015 Spirit of Christmas concerts in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. A theme of folk music was running throughout the season, and the special guest for the concerts was legendary Northumbrian pipes player Kathryn Tickell. Kathryn is also a fine folk fiddler, and in this piece I wrote a solo part for her, alongside the massed forces of Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra.
The text combines two sources, with the mixed choir singing ‘Sailor’s Carol’ by the Cornish poet Charles Causley, and the youth choir singing ‘Gàir na mara’ (Sea sounds) in Scots Gaelic, a traditional rowing song from Skye. The melody and words were noted from the singing of Frances Tolmie and published in Songs of the Hebrides(1909), edited by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser. Grateful thanks to Liam Redmond for his generous help with the pronunciation and translation of the Scots Gaelic.
Three Cornish Songs2014
mixed voice choir and piano, or male voice choir and piano14 minutes
Premiered by Camerata Kernow conducted by Nigel Wicken, 10 December 2017, St Mary’s Church, Penzance.
buy sheet music here
programme note
Ian Stephens: Three Cornish Songs
Elizabethan Sailor's Song
John Polruddon
The Seasons in North Cornwall
Three Cornish Songs was commissioned by my father Nicholas Stephens, a partial Cornishman, a keen singer in various choirs in Cornwall, and a lifelong sailor. In it I've set three poems by the great Cornish poet Charles Causley (1917-2003).
Something of the windswept, salt-drenched nature of the Cornish coast – a land that I have known and loved since earliest childhood – has made its way into this music. Each song has a sharply drawn character, from the modern-day lute-song of 'Elizabethan Sailor's Song' to the galloping tale of suspense and cliff-top abduction of 'John Polruddon'. (In July 2017 I sailed with my father past the very cliffs, above Mevagissey, where John Polruddon lived before he was snatched away to sea by Frenchmen at the time of Henry VII.) And finally, a passionate meditation on the passing of the year from North Cornwall, with the Atlantic to the west glimmering and raging by turns.
I originally wrote Three Cornish Songs for male voice choir and piano, then later made a version for mixed voice choir and piano. Both versions are equally valid.
Timepieces: Three Auden Lyrics2010
SATB choir, alto saxophone16 minutes

Domesday Song
Our bias
Funeral Blues

Premiered by the Elysian Singers and saxophonist Kenji Fenton, conducted by Sam Laughton, on 1 March 2011 at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, London

Sheet music available to buy here

CD, recorded by Kenji Fenton and the Elysian Singers, available to buy here

programme note

Ian Stephens: Timepieces: Three Auden Lyrics

Timepieces was commissioned by Sam Laughton and the Elysian Singers of London with the aid of a generous grant from the PRS for Music Foundation. Texts used with the permission of the Estate of W.H. Auden.

Timepieces was first performed by the Elysian Singers and saxophonist Kenji Fenton, conducted by Sam Laughton, on 1 March 2011 at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, London.

I have known Sam Laughton since 1998, when I first started going to Pigotts Music Camp, an inspirational place in the Chiltern Hills. Over the last decade I have been lucky enough to have Sam conduct a number of my pieces at Pigotts. In 2006 he read through my partsong For Instance with his London choir, the Elysian Singers. On the strength of this, in 2009 Sam and the Elysian Singers commissioned me to write a new work on texts by Auden, to fit into a programme devoted to Auden settings by composers ranging from Britten and Walton to Rudolf Escher, James Lavino, Antonín Tucapsky and Hans Vogt.

Sam asked me to include a part for a solo instrument of my choice, though not a chordal instrument such as piano, harp or guitar. After some deliberation I decided on the alto saxophone, partly because it’s an instrument I adore, partly for its great expressive potential, and partly for its huge dynamic range, from the most delicate, fragile sound to an uncompromising stridency, able to be heard above a whole choir singing at its loudest. .

I heard Kenji Fenton’s fluid and versatile playing in 2009 in a concert I had written for in Liverpool, and his name immediately sprang to mind when I was asked who I would like to play the saxophone part.

After a long process of reading and narrowing-down, Sam and I agreed on which poems I would set. I have responded to Auden’s wonderful language in the overall mood of each poem, often by reflecting the ebb and flow of emotion, though only rarely on the level of specific words.

Though each song is a separate entity, with a distinct character and pace, a number of themes and twists of harmony run throughout the set, drawing them together. .

‘Funeral Blues’, the central movement of Timepieces, was broadcast live on In Tune on BBC Radio 3 on the day before the premiere, 28 February 2011.
Caneuon Serch a Gofid2010
SATB choir, harp15 minutes

Caneuon Serch a Gofid means ‘Songs of Love and Sorrow’. Premiered by the Liverpool Welsh Choral and harpist Anna Christensen, conducted by Keith Orrell, at St Mary’s Church, West Derby, Liverpool, on 15 May 2010.

Sheet music is available to buy here

programme note

For the Liverpool Welsh Choral and its Music Director, Keith Orrell, Caneuon Serch a Gofid was commissioned in the 2009 by the Liverpool Welsh Choral. It is written in memory of Eileen Vaughan, who was a loyal and generous member of the choir for many years.

The brief I was given was to compose a piece for choir and harp based on a few traditional Welsh tunes, to be sung in Welsh. As someone with an interest in languages but with scant knowledge of Welsh, I needed much help in preparing for this. Rhiannon Liddell, a member of the choir, has put her great expertise and many hours of her time into helping me with the texts. After the process of selecting the songs – there are many treasures to choose from and it was hard to whittle them down to six – she provided me with literal, word-for-word translations of all the texts; the translations printed on the following pages are based on these. I also recorded Rhiannon speaking all the texts in natural Welsh speech rhythms.

The six songs I selected are all found in the 1884 edition of The Songs of Wales, edited by Brinley Richards:

Hob y deri dano (All the day)
Bum inau’n rhodiana (I was strolling, also known as One Bright Summer Morning, or Cadair Idris)
Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock)
Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech (The Campaign of the Men of Harlech, or Men of Harlech)
Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the Wheat, or Idle Days in Summer Time)
Llwyn Onn (The Ash Grove)

The music that the harp plays at the beginning and end of the piece, and in the linking passages between some of the songs, is derived from another song which is never heard in full, ‘Difyrwch Gwyr Dyfi’ (Woe to the Day, or The Men of Dovey’s Delight). Apart from ‘Men of Harlech’and ‘The Ash Grove’, none of these songs were familiar to me before beginning work on this piece. It has been a pleasure to discover these songs, to explore them, and to find ways to cast them in new light.

Below the Welsh text in the music itself, and also on the following pages, I have provided a phonetic version for English speakers; further explanation of this appears on the next page. Though I’m well aware that this has severe limitations in its ability to accurately represent the intricacies of Welsh pronunciation, I hope that it will prove more of a help than a hindrance to singers who are not familiar with the Welsh language.

Grateful thanks to Rhiannon Liddell for her help with the translation and pronunciation, to Eryl Dooling for her help with the phonetic version, to Robert and Gillian Pascall, who gave me free rein of their cottage on Ynys Môn (Anglesey) for a concentrated week of work on this piece in January 2010, and to Eleanor Hudson for her advice on harp technique.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas2008
SATB choir, children’s choir (SA), orchestra (2222.2221.T.2P.H.str)3 minutes 30 seconds

Premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra and the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir, in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, conducted by Ian Tracey, in December 2008. If no children’s choir is available, a semichorus of sopranos and altos should take its place.

Score and parts are available to buy here
Shir Ahava1998
SATB choir, 2 narrators, clarinet, harp, 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos, double bass12 minutes


text: from the Song of Songs, in Hebrew 

Premiered by Bristol University Chamber Choir and instrumentalists from Bristol University at the Victoria Rooms, Bristol, conducted by Grace Rossiter, on 4 February 1998. The solo string parts can be performed by a larger string group of similar proportions. The narrators should be amplified. 

programme note

Ian Stephens: Shir Ahava

I composed Shir Ahava (Song of Love) in 1997-98 at the request of Grace Rossiter, then conductor of the Bristol University Chamber Choir, which I had sung in for four years up to 1997. Though I was not brought up in any religion, my mother is Jewish (her family moved from Lithuania to Manchester in the 1890s), and through this work I went some way to exploring the Jewish side of my ancestry. I decided on two verses of the Song of Songs which I felt an affinity with, and which I felt could be set effectively. Though I don't speak or read Hebrew, I wanted to set it in the original language.


To this end, I visited the very helpful Rabbi Simon of Bristol, who I asked to read the relevant Hebrew verses into a tape recorder. I then transliterated it to make it as easy for singers to read as possible. I also wanted a poetic translation of the verses read out as part of the piece, and came across a lovely translation by American writer Marcia Falk, who has given me her permission to use the verses.


Shir Ahava draws on klezmer, which is basically a modern take on Eastern European traditional Jewish music. It makes use of the characteristic harmonies, melodic contours and rhythms of that tradition, though does not quote any actual tunes. A typical pattern in a klezmer performance is to move from the doina, a rhapsodic improvisation, through a selection of tunes of increasing vigour to a final bulgar or freylakhs, a type of fast, celebratory tune associated with weddings. In its brief framing episodes – meandering clarinet solo at the beginning and jubilant fast dance at the end – Shir Ahava follows this framework. 

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