There is no rose

Young composer Andrew Carvel explains the background to his Advent choral work “There is no rose”, and Michael Harris tells us about a new recording venture from the choir of St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Andrew CarvelIn the autumn of 2012, after the hype of the Olympics had died down and when Edinburgh was just about returning to normal after the frenzy of the Fringe, I found myself with a set of words going round in my head. These words were the first line of the Christmas text "There is no rose of such virtue as is the rose that bare Jesu" and rather unusually none of the many musical settings of this work sprung to mind. As a composer, it can be difficult to write a new setting to a famous text as previous works cloud any original thoughts, so I took this blank canvas of words and began writing my own setting.


I spent far longer than I normally would on the melody. I worked line by line, humming the first idea that came into my head, then changing notes here and there to make it more expressive and original. I occasionally wrote down a chord symbol in an attempt to remember fleeting harmonic ideas for when I returned to finish the other parts later. After an hour or so I had managed to sculpt my 'rough around the edges' melody into one that I was happy with. With soprano line in place, I began penciling in the other parts, mostly bass to begin with then the inner parts. Once the first verse was filled out with all four parts working 'vertically', I went back and made little changes to improve the melodic contour so each voice part was interesting to sing and listen to. There is a short Latin phrase at the end of each English verse, which I set contrapuntally in contrast to the homophonic way I set the English text.

There are five verses, and structurally I decided that verses one, three and five should be based on the same melody with verses two and four using another. Despite the same melody in these verses they are all set in different ways. This ensures the listener stays engaged, whilst keeping a sense of familiarity. When writing 'There is no rose' I tried to make sure it is enjoyable to sing, so many choirs of different ability levels can enjoy it. It can be used throughout the Christmas period, both in advent or carol services, as well as in concerts. I hope I have managed to encapsulate some of the wonder of the Christmas story and that my music really brings out the best in these very old words.

Andrew Carvel graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2011 with a first class honours degree in music. Since then he has been working as a freelance composer, music teacher and performer in Edinburgh. In addition to composing and teaching, Andrew is the organ scholar at St. Andrew’s & St. George’s West, is a founding member of the vocal ensemble Vintage Twelve and sings at the Robin Chapel.

St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, launched its own recording label in June of this year. The Aegidius label is dedicated to making recordings featuring the Cathedral Choir and Organists and two discs have already been released, both of which showcase the work of Edinburgh-based composers. These were the product of six recording sessions in the early spring, with the discs produced and recorded by Adrian Lucas of Acclaim Productions.

O clap your hand cd cover“O clap your hands: A century of inspiration” [AGD 001] is an exciting disc (“excellent”, “breath-taking” Choir & Organ September 2014) of choral music written since 1914 and includes works by young Edinburgh composers Chris Hutchings and Stuart Murray-Mitchell commissioned for the Cathedral Choir, as well as music by Bairstow, Francis Jackson, Kenneth Leighton, Sally Beamish and Cecilia McDowall. This disc was funded by The Friends of the Music of St Giles’ Cathedral; it reflects not only the fact that the commissioning of new music and encouragement of young composers is an important part of the work of the Friends and the Cathedral Choir, but also the great breadth of repertoire which has provided inspiration and enjoyment to choirs and worshippers over the past century.

The second disc, “On Christmas Night” [AGD 002] also mixes old and new in a sequence of twenty one carols, including music from composers and arrangers with Edinburgh associations, Peter Backhouse, Assistant Organist of St Giles’, Matthew Owens, formerly Organist of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, and Andrew Carvel. The recording aims to capture some of the atmosphere of a St Giles’ Christmas, where the Carol Service traditionally focuses on the journey from Advent to Christmas. Andrew Carvel wrote “There is no Rose” originally for the Choir of St Andrew’s and St George’s West in which he sings. It is highly effective in its simplicity, and has proved extremely popular.

Michael Harris is Organist and Master of the Music at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. The Choir of St Giles' Cathedral is an adult choir of thirty singers drawn from a wide variety of walks of life from the City of Edinburgh and further afield. Their main task is the singing of the two Sunday morning choral services and in addition to this they sing on many special civic and national occasions, such as the Installations of the Order of the Thistle.

A flyer with full details of both CDs including track listings and the full review of “O clap you hands” by Choir & Organ are available below.

Aegidius recordings are available from St Giles’ Cathedral Shop (0131 226 0673) or online from McAlister Matheson Music at the following links:
O clap your hands (AGD 001) UK salesnon-UK sales
On Christmas Night (AGD 002) UK salesnon-UK sales