Philip Larkin’s “Water”

“Water” by Philip Larkin

If I were called
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

From the program notes:

This short song cycle composed by Andrew Hopper consists of four settings of poems by Philip Larkin. Newly commissioned in 2011 for this recital [Birmingham Conservatoire BMus(Hons) Final Recital, 23 May 2011], it is scored for soprano [Phillippa Cairns], clarinet [Kieran Cameron], alto saxophone [Lucille Price], viola [Katharina Von Coleson] and violoncello [Andrew Hopper].

The poems are taken from The Whitsun Weddings, a collection of 32 poems by Larkin first published in 1964. Many of these poems have running themes of existential questioning, futility and religion.

“Water” concludes the song cycle with a beauty that exquisitely reflects the images in the poem. The ideas describe the use of water in religion, evoking the practices of Christianity such as baptism and the washing of the feet. The glass of water raised to the East also alludes to Christianity, where the East plays a highly significant role. A striking image concludes the poem: “A glass of water where any-angled light would congregate endlessly.” The music comes together at this point in an expressive tonal center, reflecting the all-encompassing and vital nature of water.

Video and program notes from

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