Leonard Enns

composer, conductor, Monarda Music

The Sunne of Grace is a song cycle for choir, soprano soloist and harp, celebrating the story of the incarnation of the Divine in the life of Christ, as expressed in anonymous Medieval English texts.  The music was composed in 1984, while Enns was on a composition sabbatical in Cambridge, England, and clearly reflects the Britten-Britain context of its genesis. The premiere was a year later, by the Renaissance Singers of Kitchener, Ontario; the 1987 performance (and CBC Radio broadcast) by Canada’s Elmer Iseler Singers under Iseler’s leadership really marked the beginning of the performance life of this cycle. A recording is available on the CD STILL, released by the DaCapo Chamber Choir (Waterloo Ontario) in 2004(www.dacapochamberchoir.ca).

The texts are delightful, almost naïve, and similar in their own medium to the images in the stained glass windows of Medieval cathedrals.  The songs are arranged as three “nested” sets, with the first and final song framing the cycle:

[1 & 6]  The first and last songs sparkle with celebration; the text rhythms inspire dance rhythms in harp and choir, sometimes in agreement with each other, sometimes in rhythmic dialogue;

[2 & 4] The solo songs are settings of more intimate, personal texts:  first [No. 2] Mary speaking to the infant Jesus--simple words of affection, and regret for the crude comfort of beasts and stable; then [No. 4] a personal expression of devotion and of a love “so high” that no other love is of interest, a love through which all physical pain is seen as a good thing. 

[3 & 5] The two a cappella songs deal with the image of light:  [No. 3] Christ as the “Sunne of grace” who is born, suffers, and is stung on the cross, and then [No. 5] the love of Christ as the true light, a theme expressed here through a compelling literary conceit--true love rests in Christ, to which all other love is simply a reflection, like the moon; the idea inspires as literal melodic inversion at the text phrase: whose love is fresh and ever green.


(The texts are given here in modern spellings, square brackets give modern equivalents of obscure words.)


1.  Hand by Hand We Shule Us Take


Hand by hand we shall us take,

And joy and bliss shall we make;

For the devil of hell man hath forsake(n),

And God’s Son is maked [become] our make [mate].


A child is born amonges man,

And in that child was no wam [blemish];

That child is God, that child is man,

And in that child our life began.


Hand by hand………


Sinful man, be blithe and glad:

For your marriage [good] thy peace is grad [granted]

When Christ was born.

Come to Christ, thy peace is grad;

For thee was His blood y-shad [shed],

That were forlorn.


Hand by hand………


Sinful man, be blithe and bold,

For heaven is both bought and sold [assured],

Every foot [entirely].

Come to Christ, thy peace is told,

For thee He gave a hundredfold [completely],

His live to bote [as atonement].


Hand by hand………


2.  Jesu, Swete Sone Dere


Jesu, sweet son dear,

On poorful bed liest thou here,

And that me grieveth sore;

For thy cradle is as a bier,

Ox and ass be thy fere [companions]:

Weep ich [I] may therefore.


Jesu, sweet, be not wroth [angry],

Though ich n'abbe clout ne cloth

[Though I have no cloth

Thee on for to fold,

in which to cover you]

Thee on to fold ne [nor] to wrap,

For ich n'abbe clout ne lap;

But lay thou thy feet to my pap,

And wite [shelter] thee from the cold.


3.  The Sunne of Grace


The sun of grace him shined in

On a day when it was morrow, [morning]

When our Lord God born was

Without wem [sin] or sorrow.


The sun of grace him shined in

On a day when it was prime, [sunrise]

When our Lord God born was,

So well he knew his time.


The sun of grace him shined in

On a day when it was noon,

When our Lord God born was,

And on the roode doon [put on the cross].


The sun of grace him shined in

On a day when it was undern, [evening]

When our Lord God born was,

And to the heart stungen [pierced].


4.  I Have Set My Hert So Hie


I have set my heart so high

Me liket [I like] no love that lower is,

And all the pains that I may drie [endure]

Me think it do me good iwis 

[I think they do me good];


For on that Lord that loved us all

So heartily have I set my thought,

It is my joy on him to call

for love me hath in ballus brought

[for love has brought me pain].

Me [I] think it do [has] iwis [certainly].


5.  All other Love is like the Moone


All other love is like the moon

That waxeth and waneth as flower in plain,

As flower that faireth and falleth soon,

As day that cleareth and endeth in rain.


All other love beginth by bliss,

In wop and wo [sorrow] maketh his ending;

No love there is that ever habbe lisse [provides eternal joy],

But what areste [rests] in Heavene King,


Whose love is fresh and ever green,

And ever full without waning;

His love sweeteth without teene [grief],

His love is endless and a-ring [eternal].


All other love I flee for Thee;

Tell me where Thou list.

In Marie mild and free I shall be found,

Ac [Even] more, ac more in Christ.


6. In excelsis gloria


When Christ was born of Mary free

In Bethlehem in that fair city,

Angels sang ever with mirth and glee

In excelsis gloria.


Herdmen beheld these angels bright

To them appeared with great light,

And said'God’s son is born this night.'

In excelsis gloria.


This King is come to save kind [people],

In the scripture as we find;

Therefore this song have we in mind,

In excelsis gloria.


Then Lord for thy great grace,

Grant us the bliss to see thy face,

Where we may sing to thy solace.

In excelsis gloria.