Hail, Holy Light was commissioned by the University of Utah Singers, directed by Brady Allred, and premiered by them at the 2009 International Chamber Choir Competition in Marktoberdorf, Germany, where it won first prize and subsequently published by Carus-Verlag.
Hail Holy Light is a depiction of the contrast between the darkness and void of nothingness without God and the motion and richness of life in God's light.
The piece begins extremely softly, as if the music is coming forth out of another realm and is barely reaching our ears, with the first words of Genesis: "In the beginning . . . and darkness was upon the face of the earth." Out of this darkness and gloom we hear a brilliant high solo voice announcing the coming of God "on the face of the waters." Immediately the chorus bursts forth with the activity of God's presence.
At this point we become aware of two separate choirs carrying partial phrases back and forth between them, almost as if there is so much to tell that they have to interrupt each other.
As Choir I releases a full chord we hear the intimate sound of Choir II rendering one hushed and simple line of the Latin Gregorian chant text Veni sancte spiritus (come holy spirit). This happens quietly and unobtrusively as befits the aspect of God which is the holy spirit. The two choirs now invoke the holy spirit and as they are doing so, the voices of the men in Choir II protrude from the texture, singing, "And God said, let there be light."
We have now reached the central focus of the piece. The remainder describes, in Latin and the beautiful flowery English of John Milton, the radiance that is God.
The last phrase invokes, in the Gregorian Latin text, the aspect of God's light that is the holy spirit. It is more subdued because to me the light of the holy spirit is more a glow than a bright light.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Paradise Lost, Book VII: 205-209
Heaven opened wide
Her ever-during gates, harmonious sound
On golden hinges moving, to let forth
The King of Glory, in his powerful Word
And Spirit coming to create new worlds.
—John Milton (1608-1674)
And God said, let there be light.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
Lucis tuae radium.
Veni, dator munerum,
Veni, lumen cordium.
O lux beatissima,
Reple cordis intima
—Twelfth Century chant text
Come, Holy Spirit,
Send forth from heaven
The ray of thy light.
come, giver of gifts,
Come, light of hearts.
O Light most blessed,
Fill the inmost heart
Of all thy faithful.
Paradise Lost, Book III: 1-6
Hail holy light, ofspring of Heav'n first-born,
Or of th' Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam'd? since God is light,
And never but in unapproachèd light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.