top of page

Psalm Concerning the Castle
for high soprano and ensemble


high soprano, 2 clarinets , viola, cello, double bass


Denise Levertov



Year of composition:


Commissioned by:

the Composers Ensemble for Mary Wiegold’s Songbook

Premiere of

revised version

Lontano / Odaline de la Martinez, Sarah Leonard (soprano),

‘Secret Theatres: The Harrison Birtwistle Retrospective’, Purcell Room, London, 16 April 1996

Psalm Concerning the Castle is a setting of a poem by Denise Levertov.  The introspective lines at the beginning and end (‘Let me be at the place of the castle. / Let the castle be within me / […] / Let that country where it stands be within me, let me be where it is’) are set as an expansive vocalise.  When the fantasy materialises into lush spaces abounding in rich and vivid details, the setting turns first into a song-like arioso and eventually into declamation.


The continuous stream of symbols (the shells of swimming turtles, green plumage of ducks, a dog, horsemen, archers, the prince, the young queen and her child) steadily draws us deeper and deeper into imaginary spaces.  The final section is a rapturous avalanche of the early stages of the fantasy, in which these ‘spaces’ reappear in quick succession, leading back to a repeat of the opening lines of the poem.




engrossing …


Barry Millington, The Times, 19 April 1996

bottom of page