A cantata setting of 'Il Cantico del Sole' for SATB chorus and orchestra
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Janet Canetty-Clarke on behalf of The Ditchling Choral Society
Instrumentation: 0022 0230 timp perc (2 parts which may be played by one player) strings
[Key to Abbreviations]
Note on Lyrics: Text: 'Il Cantico del Sole' , St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), Early Italian
Duration: 25 mins
First Performance:

First performance of the version for SATB chorus and piano in Saint Francis' Hospital, Haywards Heath, by the Ditchling Choral Society conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke, May 1st 1977

First performance of the orchestral version for SATB chorus and orchestra in Worth Abbey by the Ditchling Choral Society conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke, May 15th 1977

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  • 1: Laudato sie, mi Signore

    The work begins with Sopranos and Altos in simple two-part harmony, as if sung in the open air of the Italian countryside. 'Praise those who pardon for love's sake and suffer illness and tribulation. Blessed are those that endure it in peace for they will receive your crown, O Lord Most High.' The text of this verse and verse 9 are thought to have been written at the end of St. Francis' life.

  • 2: Altissimo onnipotente

    The orchestra enters with a mediaeval drum -a tabor- beating out an insistent rhythm as if in a celebratory procession, the singers entering one after another in a canonic chorus, first Tenors, secondly Sopranos, then Altos and lastly Basses. It is a universal hymn of praise: 'Almighty Lord most high, fount of all goodness, praises, glory, honour and every blessing belong to you.'

  • 3: Frate Sole

    A hymn to brother Sun with the lower voices humming under the soprano line and warmth and heat provided by surging brass harmonies.

  • 4: Sora Luna e Stelle

    Quiet divided strings and a silver triangle provide music in praise of Sister Moon and the Stars

  • 5: Frate Vento

    Vigorous string arpeggios conjure up brothers Wind and Air, with gusts and squalls of sound assisted by woodwinds and suspended cymbal, rising and falling and then dying away into the distance,

  • 6: Sor Aqua

    Pizzicato violas suggest drops of rain, two solo violins trilling suggest splashes and cellos suggest a deep-flowing stream as the singers offer praise to 'sister Water, useful,humble, precious and pure.'

  • 7: Frate Focu

    In a movement marked Allegro Robusto the trombones combine with forte Basses to portray the power and beauty of brother Fire, rising in fugal progressions to a great tutti unison of affirmation.

  • 8: Sora nostra matre Terra

    A movement where the choir are featured, gently and expressively to celebrate 'Our sister, mother Earth who bears and sustains us and brings forth various fruits, many-coloured flowers and grasses- praise and bless the Lord and thank him and serve him with great humility.'

  • 9: Sora nostra Morte Corporale

    A chiming bell over sustained low strings reminds us of mortality, but to St. Francis even death is 'our sister Death', and as the bell ceases to toll, the Sopranos and Altos remind us of the open-air manner of the opening, singing: 'Blessed are those whom death shall find performing your holy wishes, for the second death shall not harm them.' On this the Sopranos divide into three and crescendo and modulate into the final section.

  • 10: Altissimo onnipotente bon Signore

    The tabor returns with full choir and orchestra to bring the work to an ecstatic conclusion in a concise recapitulation of the fugal chorus: 'Praises, glory, honour and blessing belong to you alone O Lord Most High!'


In the early seventies composer Howard Blake was living in mid-Sussex and was approached by The Ditchling Choral  Society to compose a work to be performed at St. Francis Hospital in Haywards Heath. No text or details were discussed since he was just leaving for a tour of Christian sites in The Holy Land. He found much of the country just as it had been in the time of Christ, with fishermen plying boats on the Sea of Galilee and nomadic Arabs living in tents in the desert. A palpable 'presence’ manifested itself one day when he was suddenly transfixed to the very spot in Jerusalem where Christ was said to have been condemned to death. The next day, high up above Qumran on the Dead Sea, with the sun beating down at 124F, there came an intense realisation of the all-vital power of the elements and a sudden remembrance of the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ by St Francis, which so wonderfully praises God as revealed in nature. Returning to London he went to the Franciscan library, finding ‘Il Cantico del Sole’ in its original early Italian, which he set to music. The first performance was with piano only but the choral society was so delighted with ‘The Song of Saint Francis’ that a second performance took place shortly afterwards alongside Mozart’s Requiem in Worth Abbey using the same instrumentation as Mozart's. The piece so impressed the Abbot of Worth that he requested the composition of  a work to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Saint Benedict in 1980. This was the dramatic oratorio 'Benedictus'.






13th March 2016 Saint Margaret's Church Blackheath London SE 13 7.30
7th July 2012 Reading Haydn Choir, Caversham Methodist Church
25th May 2012
- 27th May 2012
Wangeretta Choristers, La Fiera Italian Festival, Performing Arts Centre, Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia

The program includes: Howard Blake: The Song of St. Francis (Canticle of Brother Sun), Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria, Giovanni Battista Martini: Salve Regina (men), Guillaume Du Fay: Alma Redemptoris Mater and R. Remondi: O Sacrum Convivium (O Sacred banquet).

12th April 2007 Leith Hill Festival choirs, English Festival Orchestra, conducted by Brian Kay, Dorking Halls, Surrey
October 2003 Sussex Chorus and orchestra conducted by Neil Jenkins, St George's Kemp Town Brighton
22nd August 1991 Three Choirs Festival Chorus, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dr Donald Hunt OBE, Hereford Cathedral

Composer's note: This Hereford performance was given in a version for large orchestra (including 4 percussion) specially orchestrated by Larry Ashmore and published by Faber Music. However the somewhat bombastic result was unsuited to the gentle spirit of Saint Francis and I think for that reason the work was not taken up. In May 2003 I restored it to its original 'Mozartian' orchestration and it was succesfully revived in a splendid performance by Neil Jenkins and the Sussex Chorus

3rd May 1977 The Ditchling Choral Society and Mid-Sussex Sinfonia conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke, Worth Abbey, Sussex

Composer's note: This was the premiere of the work, which was performed along with 'The Mozart Requiem', the tenor role taken by the great Richard Lewis. After the performance the Abbot of Worth, Victor Farwell, said to me jokingly:'How dare you compose a work for the opposition, (meaning The Franciscans). Why don't you write a full-scale oratorio for Benedict whose 1500th birthday it is in 1980? Richard Lewis then said that if I would write one featuring a tenor he would perform it. I said I didn't know anything about Benedict, but the unstoppable Abbot then invited me to come and stay in the monastery and find out. I did so and there started work on 'Benedictus' (q.v.)

Related Works

'THE SONG OF SAINT FRANCIS (FOR PIANO)' op.209 (January 1976)
A cantata for chorus and piano with an early Italian text, composed for The Ditchling Choral Society (see orchestral version op.248)
'BENEDICTUS' op.282 (May 1980) (Audio Sample Available)
Dramatic oratorio for tenor, speaker, chorus, solo viola and orchestra
'The Song Of St Francis' op.536 (May 2003)
Rescored and revised with the original instrumentation of 1976.see op.248

Related Autobiography Chapters

'The Song of St. Francis' ,'Hokusai' and 'The Station' (1975)
Ridley Scott's 'The Duellists','Stronger than the sun' & 'Leda and the Swan' (1977)

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