Unaccompanied Choir

The Malmesbury Responses2010
SATB choir12 minutes


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text: from the Book of Common Prayer

Sheet music available to buy here

programme note

Ian Stephens: The Malmesbury Responses



In 2007 I was one of ten composers commissioned to write a piece to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ensemble 10/10, the contemporary music group of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Searching for a way to link my new piece in some way to the ensemble’s name, I chanced upon the story of Eilmer.



“He was a man learned for those times, of ripe old age, and in his early youth had hazarded a deed of remarkable boldness. He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Daedalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower, flew for more than a furlong [about 200 metres]. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the consciousness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of his failure that he had forgotten to provide himself with a tail.”



The intrepid man was Eilmer, a monk of Malmesbury Abbey. The report of Eilmer’s feat was included in
Deeds of the English Kings by fellow monk William of Malmesbury, writing in about 1125. Eilmer’s flight took place in the year 1010, or thereabouts; it was this that provided the link to the ensemble’s name.

The resulting piece, Through the Affrighted Air, was an exploration of this event; its title was drawn from the poem Icarus by Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles.

BBC Radio 3 recorded the concert at which Through the Affrighted Air was first performed, and it was broadcast on 19 October 2009. I emailed news of this broadcast to many friends, and also to some people in Malmesbury itself. Neill Archer, vicar of the Abbey and – unbeknown to me – once an international opera singer, listened to the piece. On the basis of that listening he commissioned me to compose TheMalmesbury Responses, in celebration of the millenary of Eilmer’s flight.

At Neill’s request, I have incorporated some elements from Through the Affrighted Air into the responses, in particular a rising three-note pattern (C-D-B) which underpins many of its melodic lines.



I have provided two versions of the Cantor’s part – a traditional unmeasured version, and a more elaborate version, in the tenor register, for Neill Archer to sing. Both versions are equally valid.

My true love hath my heart1998
SATB choir2 minutes 30 seconds
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text: Philip Sidney

Premiered at the wedding of Nicholas Krestovnikoff and Miranda Harper-Jones in Bristol on 14 March 1998.

Sheet music available to buy here
For Instance1996
SSAATB choir2 minutes


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text: Laurence Whistler

Premiered by PartSong in Bristol in 1996

Sheet music available to buy here
Song from Tyrannick Love1996
SSAATB choir3 minutes 30 seconds


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text: John Dryden

Premiered by PartSong in Bristol in 1996.

Sheet music available to buy here
The Ecchoing Green1996
SSATB choir2 minutes 30 seconds


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text: William Blake

Premiered by PartSong in the Bristol in 1996.

Sheet music available to buy here

programme note

Ian Stephens: The Ecchoing Green

Between 1995 and 1997 I sang in a small choir in Bristol called PartSong, then directed by Miranda Krestovniskoff. I wrote The Ecchoing Green for Partsong, and they have performed it many times. It was broadcast on Essential Classics on BBC Radio 3 on 5 September 2012 in a recording by the Elysian Singers, conducted by Sam Laughton.
Epitaph on a Tyrant1995
SSAATTBB choir4 minutes


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text: W.H. Auden

Premiered by the BBC Singers in Maida Vale Studios on 2 September 1997.

programme note

Ian Stephens: Epitaph on a Tyrant

I composed this as a final-year undergraduate at Bristol University. It was selected to be on Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) annual shortlist in 1995, and was given a workshop performance by the BBC Singers in Maida Vale Studios, London, conducted by Simon Jolly, on 2 September 1997.

Make we Merry1993
SSAATTBB choir3 minutes
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Premiered by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall on 22 December 1994.

Sheet music is available to buy here

programme note

I composed this as a second-year undergraduate at Bristol University. It has been performed by choirs including the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, the Bristol University Singers, the Bristol Bach Choir, the Exmoor Singers of London.
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