How I Wrote... Thou Knowest Lord from Requiem - Bob Chilcott

Delving deeper into a movement from Bob Chilcott's sublime choral Requiem, we're finding out a little more about the inspiration for this solemn religious work.

Composer: Bob Chilcott

Piece: Thou Knowest Lord from Requiem

Date written: 2010

In a sentence or less, how would you describe the music to someone who's never heard it before?
The music is built in a traditionally harmonic way and has a solemn, but ultimately uplifting quality.

How did the idea for the piece come about?
I wanted a section of my Requiem, set to the Latin Requiem text, to have a section in English. The text for this comes from the Book of Common Prayer, from the Funeral Sentences and I knew the text through having sung and conducted the famous setting from the Funeral Music for Queen Mary by Henry Purcell.

Did you have a musical 'EUREKA!' moment where everything fell into place, or did the piece gradually shift and change over time?
I did have a kind of 'EUREKA!' moment when it seemed right to set the piece on a recurring four-bar ground bass, a technique that was used by Henry Purcell. I have also used the same four-bar harmonic sequence over the bass and built the shape and texture of the piece by inverting the harmony and altering the spacings and voicings along with the dynamics and tessitura. The piece has ten bars in the middle, where the words 'O holy and most merciful Saviour…' begin, where the piece modulates to the relative major key, to bring a sense of rest and repose.

Is there a musical moment in the piece you're most proud of?
Overall I am pleased with the concept and shape of this piece. There is a moment at the end where the choir fan out downwards on to a chord on the words 'to fall' which can sound effective.

What's been your favourite performance of the music?
I am particularly fond of the recorded version by Wells Cathedral Choir conducted by Matthew Owens. They sing with the breadth and also the commitment that I think this piece needs.

If you could hear anyone admit they're a huge fan of the piece, who would it be?
It would have to be Henry Purcell.

If you had to compose it again, what would you change?
I am not sure. I have never rewritten or revised my pieces simply because I have always felt that how I have written them is a reflection of myself and the way I am at that time. This can be both positive and negative, but I have to accept that!

Where was the premiere and how did you feel hearing the piece for the first time?
The piece was premiered at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on March 13 2010 by the Oxford Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Cleobury. I was nervous and on edge, but ultimately very moved – they performed it very well and the atmosphere in the Theatre was quite charged. It was wonderful.

Chilcott, Thou Knowest Lord - Video