After Martin Prachař had spent many hours working on a beautiful instrumental recording of my men’s choir arrangement of Abide with Me, I asked him if I might arrange one of his favorite hymns. He said, “as the spring came in fast this year and brought in hope, I have been really feeling like singing For the Beauty of the Earth…”
I began work immediately on an arrangement that I soon discarded. When I arrange, I want to bring something fresh to the song. If I cannot improve upon the original, an arrangement is a waste of time. I felt that the tune of the hymn was already well harmonized, and I didn’t want to tinker with it too much. I got frustrated and walked away from the project for over six months.
In January 2013, my family and I attended the funeral of a brilliant mathematician and scientist, John Downing. The closing hymn at the service was For the Beauty of the Earth. This brought the song back to the front of my mind.
Last week, I was sitting at the piano and working out a little tune, and the lyrics to For the Beauty of the Earth began to fit with it. I wrote and harmonized the tune, and then I went back to the original hymn tune by Conrad Kocher. I was able to quote that melody in the bass line of verse 2.
To me, beauty in music is achieved through shimmering dissonance as much as consonant chords. That aesthetic idea guided the voicing of this piece. See and hear the results here.