The Contrite Heart

Looking for texts to set (I am always looking for texts to set) I stumbled over this one by William Cowper. It looks to me to be a response to Psalm 51:

The Lord will happiness divine
On contrite hearts bestow;
Then tell me, gracious God, is mine
A contrite heart or no?

I hear, but seem to hear in vain,
Insensible as steel;
If aught is felt, ‘tis only pain,
To find I cannot feel.

I sometimes think myself inclined
To love Thee if I could;
But often feel another mind,
Averse to all that’s good.

My best desires are faint and few,
I fain would strive for more;
But when I cry, “My strength renew!”
Seem weaker than before.

Thy saints are comforted, I know,
And love Thy house of prayer;
I therefore go where others go,
But find no comfort there.

Oh make this heart rejoice or ache;
Decide this doubt for me;
And if it be not broken, break—
And heal it, if it be.

The last two verses, especially, seem very powerful. So I decided to set it. I had a go at a three-part polyphonic setting of the last two verses, but it wasn’t really working and felt too much like an exercise. It’s a while since I wrote anything suitable for the London Gallery Quire, and I like writing hymns, so I started over and I’m pleased to say it worked rather better. This can be sung as a congregational hymn by cutting out the first three repetitions of the third line of text (so, jumping to the point where the soprano comes in), but if being done as an anthem by a four-part choir, the staggered entries make it quite effective. In the next few days I’ll try and sort out a hymnal-style file, too, for congregational situations.

It’s on the Choral Public Domain Library site as usual, but won’t be visible there for a day or so; in the meantime, the London Gallery Quire website also has a PDF. And we sang it at rehearsal on Wednesday night, so I recorded it.

As usual, the license is CC by-SA, which means Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike. What’s that in plain English? If you want to use it, use it. You already have my permission! But you must list me as the composer.

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