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The text of this chorus (the first of my Four American Choruses) is chosen from Ira D. Sankey’s popular American Gospel Hymn Book, from the mid-nineteenth century, a volume much beloved by Charles Ives who quoted numerous Sankey tunes in almost all his mature works. I have not used any of the tunes at all, being struck more by the optimism and artless directness of the texts themselves. There is something socially very moving about them, providing as they did a means of solace, comfort and hope in a better life for people whose lives were, on average, probably terrible.
Some of the phraseology and turns of phrase may also have been an influence on American poets in the latter half of the nineteenth century. I hear pre-echoes of Emily Dickinson, at least, in the texts of both I’m a pilgrim and Beautiful Valley of Eden. In all four cases, the chosen texts generally avoid any specifically denominational religious references, as I wanted to focus on the social idea of collective hope and celebration.
This is the simplest of the four choruses, both in text and music, and is a memorial to my late stepfather. Broadly ternary in structure, it opens with an unaccompanied monody which returns at the close of the piece harmonised. The middle sections are more polyphonic.