William Walton

A Litany, for chorus ("Drop, Drop Slow Tears")

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    Perhaps nowhere is William Walton's precocity evidenced as clearly as in his Litany (1916) -- composed when he was only 15 years old. The work is a setting of a devotional text by seventeenth-century writer Phineas Fletcher, whose penitential poetry finds evocative realization in Walton's a cappella rendering. Walton scholars note the skill demonstrated by the composer's voice leading; his harmonic choices, while not necessarily possessing the measured dramatic weight of a mature composer, certainly do not seem the work of an adolescent. Particularly effective is the ambiguous harmony with which the piece begins: a dissonant and disorienting augmented chord, followed by a closely overlapping and likewise dissonant diminished chord, which finally settles at the fourth bar into the E minor harmony upon which the work is built.

    Homophonic declamation generally predominates, though various other textures are employed with poignant effects. First and foremost is the pictorial rendering of the repeated word "Drop," which Walton sets as a descending sequence of leaps in the soprano. Elsewhere, polyphonic divergence sets up moments of tension, as in the "cry for vengeance" of the second stanza. Some observe in the final cadence a foreshadow of the kind of harmonic practice Walton would utilize in later works; the final resolution to an E minor triad is approached and made all the more resolute by a handful of shimmeringly dissonant half steps.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 King's College Choir KGS 0038
    2019 Gothic Records G 49319
    2019 Opus Arte OA CD9045D
    2017 Decca 4831252
    2012 Signum Classics / Signum UK SIGCD 281
    2010 Regis Records 1323
    2008 Priory Records 5031
    2007 Argo 4361202
    2003 Nimbus 5364
    2002 Naxos 555793
    2001 Nimbus 5691-5
    2001 Guild GMCD 7222
    2000 Priory Records 732
    1999 Hyperion 67087
    1996 Guild 7126
    1996 Chandos 9426
    1995 Collegium Records 302
    1994 Nimbus 5328
    1994 Chandos 9222
    1993 Priory Records 362
    1992 London/Decca Argo / Argo 2ZH-436-120
    1991 Collegium Records 113
    William Ferris Choral 869914
    Argo 125269
    Conifer 51164
    Hyperion 67330