HomePractical AdviceChoralJudith Weir at 70: Five Essential Works

Judith Weir at 70: Five Essential Works

Judith Weir was born into a Scottish family but raised near London. Having trained as an oboe player and studied composition under notable mentors such as John Tavener and Robin Holloway, she embarked on a prolific career that included teaching in Scotland and England, and gained recognition through performances of her works across Europe and the United States, becoming well-known for her choral, orchestral, and chamber music.
 
In July 2014, Weir was appointed to the 395-year-old royal post of Master of the Queen’s Music, in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the first female composer to hold the post. Since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s passing in September 2022, Weir is now Master of The King’s Music. Amongst her priorities in her tenure are the support of school music teachers, amateur orchestras and choirs, and of rural festivals.
 
In honour of her 70th birthday, we’re revisiting five of Judith Weir’s career defining pieces.  

The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990)

The Vanishing Bridegroom

After graduating from the University of Cambridge, Judith Weir began her career writing operas. In 1987, she premiered Night at the Chinese Opera. This was followed by a further three full-length operas: The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990); Blond Eckbert (1994); and Miss Fortune (2011). 

The Vanishing Bridegroom unfolds in three acts, each retelling a Scottish folk tale interwoven into a narrative thread. In “The Inheritance,” three sons search for their missing inheritance as advised by their dying father, revealing a guilty party among them. “The Disappearance” follows a father lured away by fairies on his way to his daughter’s christening, only to return years later unchanged, while his friend and a policeman have aged waiting for him. Finally, in “The Stranger,” the now grown-up daughter encounters a charming but unearthly suitor, ultimately triumphing over him with the help of a preacher’s protective prayer. The opera explores themes of inheritance, enchantment, and the supernatural against a Scottish folkloric backdrop. 

The Vanishing Bridegroom vocal score is available here.

Love Bade Me Welcome (1997)

Written in 1994 for Aberdeen University’s 500th anniversary, Weir wrote two settings of 17th century English verse for choir and organ, entitled Two Human Hymns. In 1997, she made an a cappella arrangement of the first of these ‘Hymns’, a setting of George Herbert’s poem ‘Love bade me welcome’, for a choir from Orkney, the Mayfield Singers, directed by Neil Price. The choir first performed Love Bade Me Welcome at a Sunday morning service at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, during the city’s Millenium celebrations.

Love Bade Me Welcome

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, 
Guiltie of dust and sinne. 
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack 
From my first entrance in, 
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, 
If I lack’d any thing. 
 
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here: 
Love said, You shall be he. 
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah, my deare, 
I cannot look on thee. 
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, 
Who made the eyes but I ? 
 
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame 
Go where it doth deserve. 
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame ? 
My deare, then will I serve. 
You must sit downe, sayes Love, and taste my Meat: 
So I did sit and eat
 
George Herbert 

The choral score (SSATBB) for Weir’s Love Bade Me Welcome can be purchased here.

By Wisdom (2022)

By Wisdom was composed to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen in 2022. The work was first performed at a Service of Thanksgiving for Her Majesty The Queen at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on the 3rd June 2022 by the choirs of St Paul’s Cathedral and Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal conducted by Andrew Carwood, with William Fox, organ.

By Wisdom Judith Weir

Happy is the one who finds Wisdom; 
the one who gains understanding. 
 
Her price is greater than silver; 
her profit is better than gold. 
She is more precious than jewels; 
all that you desire cannot compare with her. 
 
Long life is in her right hand; 
in her left are riches and honour. 
Her ways are the ways of pleasantness; 
and all her paths are peace. 
 
She is a tree of life to those who grasp her; 
and those who hold her fast are blessed. 
By Wisdom, the Lord laid the foundations of the earth; 
he established the heavens by understanding.

Proverbs, Chapter 3

The official vocal score for Weir’s By Wisdom is available here.

Like as the Hart (2022)

Like As The Hart Judith Weir

“Weir’s psalm is astonishingly beautiful, as slowly shifting chords and harmonies suggest the soul’s longing for God in the contemplation of eternity.”

The Guardian (2022)  

For the State Funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Westminster Abbey requested that Judith Weir set to music the first seven verses of Psalm 42, “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.” The words and music speak at first of the soul’s great sadness and thirst for God’s reassurance; but as the psalm progresses, the mood becomes calmer and more resolved, culminating in consolation, with the words “Put thy trust in God”. Judith Weir shares in the program notes that The Queen’s strong faith in, and support of, Anglican worship was an inspiration for her when setting this psalm to music.

The choral score for Like as the Hart (SATB choir unaccompanied) is available to order here.

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2011)

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis Judith Weir

“After a vivid opening there is a complex interweaving of voices but always with a very expressive attention to the words and a clarity of textures. The Nunc Dimittis opens with a lyrically expressive section for the men, who are then joined by the women for a setting which is both passionate and thoughtful. Sung at a steady speed, there is clarity but also strength and passion.” – Planet Hugill review (2015)

Commissioned by the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the College, Weir’s Magnificat was first performed by Andrew Nethsingha and the Choir of St John’s College on the 30th October 2011, and the Nunc Dimittis (as part of a complete performance) on the 5th February 2012.

Discover the sheet music for Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis here.


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