Love is and was my Lord and King

What is it?

Love is and was my Lord and King is a setting of the poem by the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in the form of a delightful minuet lasting a mere 1'17". It is the second of the five songs that comprise my song cycle Idylls. It is available in two versions. The first is for solo soprano and piano. The second is for mixed choir (SATB) and piano. Light and airy, with more than a hint of the modal harmonies and dance rhythms of the Renaissance period, it also features modulations that would not be out of place in the late works of Richard Strauss. Neo-renaissance describes it very well.


Love is and was my Lord and King,
And in his presence I attend
To hear the tidings of my friend,
Which every hour his couriers bring.

Love is and was my King and Lord,
And will be, tho' as yet I keep
Within his court on earth, and sleep
Encompass'd by his faithful guard,

And hear at times a sentinel
Who moves about from place to place,
And whispers to the worlds of space,
In the deep night, that all is well.


Solo version

played on flute and piano

Choral version

played as an instrumental


Love is and was is one of a very small number of works that I have composed almost entirely while working abroad and without access to my keyboard. In this particular case I was working for a few weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam, and this music was written while sitting at the desk in room 703 of the De Syloia Hotel! From the outset I envisaged it almost as a whispered courtly dance of the Renaissance period.

The idea of writing a song cycle based on Tennyson’s poems first occurred to me in 1986. At that time I was thinking of a tenor rather than a soprano and perhaps that's why the present settings work with either voice. I jotted down vague snippets of Saint Agnes' Eve and Of old sat Freedom on the heights, also about half of Crossing the Bar. Then a change of job resulted in me moving to another town quite some distance away and I lost the motivation to continue working on the songs. They lay dormant until 2014.

Pisa, Duomo
Chen Wang

Chen Wang

I got to know the London-based Chinese soprano Chen Wang through a mutual friend, who introduced her to my music. I offered to compose a song cycle for her and she liked the idea. At the time of making the suggestion I wasn't thinking specifically of the songs that I had started so many years previously, but listening to Chen's voice made me realise they would be the ideal material for her. The set of five songs, entitled Idylls and including Love is and was was completed on 8th February 2015, nearly thirty years after I had first jotted down some thoughts about it … and rather like a good single malt whisky, it’s all the better for being so well matured. I decided to publish the songs individually as well as in the form of a song cycle in order to broaden their appeal.

This song puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. It’s beautifully tender and slightly cheeky, as if God is saying, “Why are you worried about things? I love you and I’m in absolute control. All is well. Go to sleep and don’t worry!”