Saturday Chorale: Nunc Dimittis (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) | Burgon

The canticle "Nunc Dimittis"  is one I’ll write about a few times in these postings. It’s known variously as the Song of Simeon, the Canticle of Simeon), or most often by the first two words of its Latin translation. In the English speaking world it’s sung every day as part of  Compline in the Catholic Church and Evensong in Anglican Churches. While Bach’s free variation on the Nunc Dimittis "Ich Habe Genug" is well loved, so famous as to need no introduction, and often sung in the German Lutheran choral tradition following the reception of the Eucharist.

Geoffrey who? If you watched the 1981 British television serialisation of "Brideshead Revisited" then you probably remember Burgon’s theme music.

Geoffrey Burgon: Richard Morrison’s intoduction to Burgon can be found at this page of Burgon’s site and is worth your while reading.

Burgon has also made available on his site a "sound gallery" of his compositions in MP3 format. After you’ve finished this posting go there as fast as your electronic legs can carry you and sample the musical goodies on offer.

Burgon died on died on September 21stst 2010 his obituary for The Guardian by Terry Jones can be found at this link.


I’ve picked two performances of a setting of Nunc Dimittis by the modern English composer Geoffrey Burgon for this posting.

His setting of Nunc Dimittis was commissioned in 1976 by the BBC for their serialisation of  John le Carré’s novel "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy".

The series was very successful as was Burgon’s music which made a great impact. As Morrison puts it: "Who would have thought that a boy treble singing a biblical song would make the pop charts? Yet such ‘was the brilliance of Burgon’s imagination that the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ that the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ which ended the show struck a chord in a million hearts." British Cathedrals (or to be more precise British Choirmasters and Choristers)  know good music when they hear it have been singing Burogon’s Nunc Dimittis ever since.

The first performance that I’ve picked is the original. The soloist is the treble Paul Phoenix who at the time was one of the Choristers at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (he’s now the tenor with the King’s Singers). I’ve chosen Phoenix’s perfomance not because it’s the original but because Paul Phoenix was one of the best treble singers I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing :

Wells: Wells is England’s smallest city, and one of its oldest. If you’re ever in either Bristol or Yeovil treat yourself to a day trip to Wells. If you arrive earlyish in the morning say before 10 in the morning, and take a nice relaxed pace you’ll find plenty to fill the day. There’s a lot of medieval architecture including the oldest (1348) continuously inhabited complete medieval street in Europe once you’ve explored the Cathedral and the City Centre, use one of the "self-guided walks" leaflets from the Tourist Information Centre on Cathedral Green to treat yourself to a pleasant stroll or two.


The second recording that I’ve chosen is by the Wells Cathedral Choir. They’ve been around a while, (the first choirboys sang there in  909) and it’s a constant source of amazement to me that they’re not far far better known. The thirty six chorister (eighteen boys and eighteen girls) together with the twelve Vicars Choral (adult male choristers) are a world class choir who sing beautifully in what is one of the most spectacularly beautiful Cathedrals in England.

Their performance of Burgon’s piece is masterly, whenever I listen to it I enjoy listening to how they’ve taken Burgon’s music and turned it into a tapestry of sound with the bright threads of Catherine Hart’s and Frances Henderson’s treble solos running through.

Lyrics are between the two videos. Enjoy :-)





29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32 a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Source: Luke 2: 29-32. The Holy Bible: King James Version.

29 Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace :

30 quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum,

31 quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:

32 lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuæ Israël.

Source: NEW ADVENT BIBLE: Luke 2: 29-32


2 thoughts on “Saturday Chorale: Nunc Dimittis (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) | Burgon

  1. Our choir at St. Mary’s in St. Paul, MN sang the Burgon setting of the Nunc Dimittis last Sunday. So beautiful.

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