Composer’s Commentary on I will lift up mine eyes

I will lift up mine eyes is a TMC commission by Canadian composer Leonard Enns. It receives its official premiere at Sacred Music for a Sacred Space, March 23 and 25, 2016.

Leonard Enns writes of this composition:

Psalm 121 is typically read, and often set musically, as a text of assurance and comfort. My setting is similar in that regard. What I find compelling, though, is the second phrase of the psalm: “from whence commeth my help (?).” Many musical settings treat the phrase “from whence cometh my help” simply as a modifier (no question mark); i.e. “… the hills from whence cometh my help” (take, for example, Mendelssohn’s “Lift thine eyes”). Most current translations, however, treat it as a question. My biblical scholar friends tell me the Hebrew syntax is not definitive, and the phrase can be read either as modifier or question. Given this ambiguity, the probing nature of Good Friday (the concert theme for the commission), and the cry from the cross, “My God, why hast though forsaken me,” I have treated the phrase as a probing existential question, where do I find help?, to which the rest of the psalm is the answer. This cry occurs twice in my setting – first at its normal spot in the text, and then returning more urgently just before the final blessing: “from whence cometh my help? .. the Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in …”

The pairing of saxophone and choir was a suggestion from conductor Noel Edison; the psalm is personal, there is no “us” in it, and the sound of the solo instrument reinforces this element of the text. The setting begins with choir and alto saxophone, continues with choir only, and concludes wth choir and soprano saxophone. The music, commissioned by Noel Edison for the 2016 Good Friday concerts of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, was written in the fall of 2015 and completed in the early weeks of 2016.

Leonard Enns

Psalm 121
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord,
which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel
shall neither sumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper:
the Lord is thy shade upon they right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in
from this time forth, and even for everymore.

King James Version

You can also read Rick Phillips’ program notes for Sacred Music for a Sacred Space 2016.