John Rutter: A Gaelic Blessing
Commissioned by the Chancel Choir of the First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska in 1978, John Rutter’s A Gaelic Blessing is one of his most popular works. Written for SATB choir, A Gaelic Blessing is primarily known for the repeated chants of the phrase ‘Deep Peace’.
Rutter took the text from William Sharp’s 1895 novel The Dominion of Dreams: Under the Dark Star. Although the text does not mention the words ‘Jesus’ or ‘Amen’, the imagery created in the text was the perfect fit for Rutter’s vision:
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you
A Gaelic Blessing was written for SATB choir and organ or orchestra. Both versions offer a different kind of feel to the score, but both also makes sure that the focus is on the choir and the words of the text. Each line of the text begins with the phrase ‘deep peace’, and in turn there is a sequence of adjectives and verbs that represent the earth. ‘Flowing air’, ‘running wave’, ‘quiet earth’, ‘shining stars’, ‘gentle night’ and ‘healing night’ all portray this idea of the natural elements in the world.
The piece is marked “flowing and tranquil”, and the lilting 3/4 time signature helps with this feeling. The accompaniment, set in broken chords between the hands (or instruments), supports the unison voices as they sing through the text. The upper voices take the lead on the melody as the lower voices move slowly, adding intensity on the words ‘deep peace’.
As each line is sung, Rutter keeps with a similar pattern of movement for the voices and the accompaniment, which keeps the music tranquil and without big surprises. A Gaelic Blessing began quietly, but by the central section the dynamics have risen significantly and the climax on ‘shining stars’ and ‘Christ’ are noticeable and effective. As the voices slow down and unite with the accompaniment, the song concludes quietly.
Although under 2 minutes in duration, John Rutter’s A Gaelic Blessing is often a popular choice for choir concerts, weddings, funerals and christenings. The words are sensitive, and Rutter creates a wave of delicate music to accompany.
Ⓒ Alex Burns