Hymn of Ancient Lands is a setting of a fragment of text recorded by Bede known as Caedmon’s Hymn. This poem (or hymn) is thought to be the earliest ever recorded poem written in the language of the Angles, the ‘Old English’ of the Anglo Saxons. Upon this basis Caedmon has been designated the patron saint of poets and poetry. The hymn, in its original Anglo Saxon, as well as Latin and modern English vernacular translations, provided the inspiration for this new musical setting for Stephen Layton and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. The juxtaposition of these three languages expresses my fascination with viewing history and spirituality through a modern lens, fusing the old with the new by paying homage to the ancient poem and reflecting its significance with my own musical ideas. For the commissioners of this work, it is significant that Caedmon, a shy, humble and deeply religious man, through divine inspiration, and with the encouragement of St Hilda of Whitby, was enabled to express God’s love of creation in song.
Caedmon?s Hymn is a universal song in which Caedmon, praises God’s creation of Heaven and Earth, which he calls ‘Middengeard’ (Middle-Earth). Extending upon this, Hymn of Ancient Lands expresses adoration of land and nature through a ritualistic musical journey which progresses from sparse and plaintive to energetic and joyful. From a modern point of view, Hymn of Ancient Lands expresses Australians’ passion for traveling overseas and exploring many different lands, combined with a deep sense of belonging and respect for our own unique and magnificent landscape.