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.