The Hours - a canonical hours cycle (2011-2016)

The Hours

Where religion is concerned I consider myself a “lapsed Catholic”. But that background never goes away. So I wanted to write something relating to my Catholic upbringing. Next to my Advent Cycle, this is another cycle, based on the Canonical Hours, a cycle of prayers that Catholic religious orders perform through the day. This goes from Matins, before the break of dawn, to Compline at the end of day.

Since you can get this music for free on IMSLP, why not buy me a coffee as thank you?

1. Matins

The first prayer of the day, Matins, is actually in the deep of night, well before Prime at the first daylight. The music is thus very restful, like the prayer of a person barely awake, almost mumbling in their sleep.

Set for three basses and three tenors, this movement is a simple arc of increasing range and harmony, over a constant low G drone in bass three.

4. None

The nineth hour is mid afternoon, somewhat bright sunny, somewhat tending to melancholy because the day is tending to a close.

This movement is written for the unusual combination of SnSSAAB, where the bass consistently doubles the sopranino two octaves down. Together they play a melancholy melody the other voices toil and spin.

5. Vespers

The Vespers are probably the best known prayer of the Canonical hours. Famous settings include those by Rachmaninoff. My version tries to depict a community chanting, with voices not entirely in sync.

This is written for a gradually expanding palette of six voices, soprano through great bass. The two tenors start it off, being closest to the human vocal range, and gradually the range of the piece expands.

6. Compline

Compline, the last prayer of the day, is another meditative piece. Written in 5/2 time, with 5 bar phrases, this has a feeling of slowing you down before retiring for the night. The opening features shifting harmonies over a pedal bass, mirroring the Matins first movement of the cycle.

Unusually, all players here have to switch instruments twice. Thus, the first section is dominated by bass recorders, the second by tenors, then one by altos, and the final section is for three sopranos.