On Windover Hill

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Download a free sample vocal score of the second movement of On Windover Hill; When You Rise (words by Akhenaten (c.1340 BC) by clicking on the vocal score.

Movement One; The Folk Influence


You can't beat a simple folk melody; it offers so much to a composer!

It's important for me to be relating this piece to not just historical but musical roots, which is why I've chosen to start the whole piece with an arrangement of "All things are quite silent"- a folk song gathered by Vaughan Williams in Sussex, in 1904. This lends a feeling of rural charm to the start of this pastoral opening, which soon merges into something slightly more sinister and questioning. The words of Amy Sawyer, pictured right, introduce the views of the South Downs, pausing to reflect on its features; the "long gaunt hill", the "grey green curves", "the dewpond", and the "wellworn track". She finishes by asking "Has the past come back? Things long forgotten?" The music continues...


Amy Sawyer (1863 - 1945) pictured right, was an Arts & Crafts artist from Ditchling in Sussex, with a particular interest in folk tales, witches and fairies.

Movement Two; a sun god?


I was inspired when reading about an object found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun (opposite); a chair with a figure closely matching the stance of the Long Man. But what could this figure represent here? The religion of the time had been that of Atenism - the name for a period of religious change under the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, Tutankhamun's father. The Aten was the single divine image, the sun-god, and worshipped as the universal creator of life. Though Tutankhamun chose to reverse the religious changes imposed by his father, I have set the rather glorious 'Hymn to Aten' for the second movement of my cantata, to represent the figure as an image of a great sun-god; "for you are the length of life and men live through you".

Movement Three;  keeping watch 


The first song ever written by Sussex folk singer, Maria Cunningham, was entitled 'The Long Man', and appeared on her 1996 album, Moon Goddess. Maria quickly became a highly regarded songwriter, performing extensively around Sussex festivals including the annual Hastings 'Jack-in-the-Green' ceremony. Sadly, she succumbed to her battle with cancer in 2012.

"The Long Man keeps vigil 'til another dawn..."

I am incredibly grateful to her estate for granting me permission to use her poignant words that capture the Long Man so beautifully. They have allowed me to not only quote her text, but also orchestrate her beautiful folk melody that she wrote. Though she never wrote her tunes down, I have been able to transcribe the melody from her 1996 recording. Her song remains the only true folk-song I have found on the subject of the Long Man. I was honoured to meet Maria's husband at the premiere of On Windover Hill in March 2020.

Maria Cunningham (1958 - 2012) performing in Hastings.

Movement Four; to the wild wood and the Downs

When originally researching texts that would best explore the various aspects of history and meaning of the Long Man, I came across two poems, written over a thousand years apart, that spoke to me of the natural music of the Downs, and the evolution of the Long Man's outline. In movement four of this cantata, I have chosen to set both these poems together. Though they intermingle with each other, together they paint a picture of the development of the Downs through the millennia. The lines "Away, away from men and towns, to the wild wood and the Downs" is taken from Shelley's 'The Keen Stars Were Twinkling' (1832), and talks of the "touch of Nature's art", whilst the work of early Welsh poet, Taliesin (550AD) talks of having been "a multitude of shapes" before becoming a "consistent form" - the consistent form we know the Long Man to be since its unsympathetic Victorian restoration in the late 19th Century.

This movement finds excitement and fire from the texts, and though only short, hears the choir and orchestra in dramatic melodic and harmonic freefall.

Movement Five; mystical call


During a late night traul of Sussex books on a well-known internet auction site, I came across a thin blue volume entitled "Poems from a Sussex pen", by a G. Pursglove. A few days later it dropped through my letterbox and I quickly flicked through its 16 pages in the hope for a mention of the Long Man. Though I was disappointed in that respect, I did quickly come to realise that the poet had a deep love of the South Downs and had included several odes to her "friendly hills" in this little book.

"Mystical call of the Downland, free,

Beauty of Sussex hills.

Mystical call of the Downs to me

Nature with beauty fills."

The inscription on the front cover (to a Miss Porter) was dated Christmas Day 1932, so I can only guess the book dates to the early 1930s, which would fit well with the outpouring of poetry of the 1920s/30s, particlarly by local female poets it would seem. A historian has probably collated facts to argue why this is the case, and I haven't been able to find out much more about Grace Pursglove, other than she was a nurse at London's Queen's Hospital for Children. Whoever Grace was though, she left us a beautiful poem which I have really enjoyed setting for horn, strings, and SATB choir.

An early portrayal of the Long Man from 1710.

Movement Six; you shall be drifted

The idea that the Long Man was carved into the Downs as way-point for pilgrims travelling between Chichester and Canterbury is a compelling one, particularly if he represents St John the Baptist. It is unlikely the inhabitants of Wilmington Priory had the time or inclination to carve such an almighty figure, but perhaps there is more than a ley line that links the two. Similary, the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset has an ancient religious building, that of Cerne Abbey, at its feet. To find a text that gave a flavour for quest, journey, adventure, uncertainty, risk, aka, a pilgrimage, I chose to set a text from Goethe's Faust (Part II); "to the untrodden, untreadable regions".

Pictured: Wilmington Priory is now owned and operated by The Landmark Trust.

Movement Seven; Paganism v. the Romans


This movement is a setting of Aeterne Rerum Conditor, by St Ambrose (340-397AD). St Ambrose is credited as one of the earliest hymn-writers, responsible not only for countless hymnal texts such as the Te Deum, but also for the beginnings of antiphonal chant. Though written several hundred years before the abbey at Wilmington was built, the inclusion of this sacred text is, I think important in the telling of the Long Man's story. Not only is it meant to represent the monks of the nearby priory who may well have been familiar with this particular text, but perhaps more significantly, it represents the struggle between the Roman emperors and Paganism, in which

St Ambrose played a significant role. He heavily influenced the anti-Pagan policies of Emperors Gratian and Theodosius I, who in particular made concerted efforts to ban Paganism in 389AD through his "Theodosian decrees".

The inclusion of Aeterne Rerum Conditor in my cantata is then more significant than it would first appear, particularly as the Long Man is much revered by today's Pagan community. Maybe the fact that a sacred text can be set alongside Pagan sentimentalities shows that both religions are able to co-exist in today's world. After all,

St Ambrose himself still exists - his body can still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated for centuries.

St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century.

Movement Eight; Diana


"I thought of that theological theory which suggests the image (of the Long Man) fell down from Jupiter, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles..." The author of numerous books about the South Downs, Arthur Batchelor, often returned to the subject of the Long Man. This extract from his 1909 article "Hero on the Hill" muses further as what or who the figure might represent. According to the Romans and Greeks, the image that "fell from heaven" was Diana, otherwise known as Artemis. Though never truly an "official" Roman cult, the Romans built temples to Diana and, as this coin shows, immortalised her as a triple goddess; Diana as huntress, Diana the moon, and Diana of the underworld. Much like the figure found in the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, the figure stands tall, with bent arms, holding two poles/torches/tools?

In August 1929, the Kibbo Kift youth movement dedicated their banner at the Long Man of Wilmington, recording the event through photographs and an entry in their Kinlog (reproduced below), furthering the idea that the figure is somehow to be revered as a link to an ancient understanding of living in harmony with nature.

In 1600, the English poet and playwright, Ben Jonson, wrote his 'Hymn to Diana', which I have decided to set to music to illustrate the theory that the Long Man somehow represents an idol that has been worshipped and revered over time and is still treated with reverence by the Pagan community today.

Pictured: the reverse of a silver denarius from 42 BC showing the goddess Diana as lightbringer and huntress.

Movement Nine; a Sussex Midsummer


The poet GD Martineau captured my attention through their beautifully descriptive writing of the Downs and in particular how the Long Man rises on midsummer night and enchants all that is around. This phrase in parcticular lent itself to some dramatic musical moments which give way to the sound of fairies flitting about in the moonlight. The movement finishes with one of the most famouns lines ever written about the Long Man, which beautifully summarises our journey through his story:

"I will go out against the sun and the Long Man of Wilmington looks naked towards the shires."

All material copyight 2020 Castley Music

Photographs: Rachel Poulton