Saint Agnes' Eve


8th February 2015 | For Chen Wang

What is it?

Saint Agnes' Eve is a setting of the poem by the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is the fourth and longest of the five songs that comprise Idylls, being scored for solo soprano and piano. Although relatively straightforward to sing, the soprano part does ascend gently to a top A in a few places. The piano part requires hands that can span a major ninth interval but otherwise is moderately easy to play.


Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes;
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil'd and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper's earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in mine earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro' all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide—
A light upon the shining sea—
The Bridegroom with his bride!


Official release (January 2024)

soprano solo plus piano



Saint Agnes

Who is or was Saint Agnes?

'Saint Agnes' Eve' had always struck me as a poem with beautiful imagery that I could translate into music. The contrary motion chords in the piano at the start feel chilly rather than cold and yet the music overall has a whimsical, naive quality about it, developing into an intensely emotional reflection on the relationship between 'the heavenly bridegroom' and his 'bride'.

The very first time I heard this played by somebody other than myself was when Jonathan Ellis rehearsed it for its first public performance. My immediate reaction was that he played it much more slowly than I myself would have done; and yet on reflection, I believe that the song was the better for it. If the soprano Chen Wang ran out of breath, she certainly gave no signs of doing so.

The music is enough to melt the heart in places, for example when the soprano sings “Draw me, Thy bride, a glittering star in raiment white and clean” to an almost Elizabethan sequence of chords in the piano. All in all, I am well pleased with how it has turned out.

Chen Wang

Chen Wang
Photo copyright © Jasmine Snow

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