In the Crypt of the Wood

For CtTTBarB 
(2015) 6 minutes

Commissioned by Opus Anglicanum and premiered by the group at St. James’ Church, Chipping Campden on 14th March 2015

Programme note 

In the Crypt of the Wood was commissioned by Opus Anglicanum, and premiered at St. Jamesʼs Church, Chipping Campden on the 14th March 2015, followed by a performance at Wells Cathedral on the 17th April. 

The piece was written to be included in OAʼs The Tree of Life programme, and inspired by sources such as David Jonesʼ pencil and gouache work Vexilla Regis, the Latin hymn of the same name, Jonesʼ poetry (most notably In Parenthesis) and various ancient texts. Many of these sources were suggested to me by John Rowlands-Pritchard, who I am very grateful to for among other things introducing me to the work of Jones, and being endlessly encouraging as I scoured ancient sources for tree references and put together a ʻpoemʼ of found words. 

I imagine this work as if taking place inside the forest of Jonesʼ Vexilla Regis picture, perhaps as a kind of prayer to one, many or no gods upon a return from war, with the strains of the Vexilla Regis hymn heard as if carried over the breeze from a place of distant worship. 

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, January 2015


Vexilla regis prodeunt. (The banners of the king advance.)

In the crypt of the wood,

A tall tree I know stands,

Showered with shining loam.

Fulget crucis mysterium. (The mystery of the cross shines forth).

From there comes the dew, 

That drops in the valleys. 

The greenest of trees.

Splendid are its branches,

and gloriously adorned.

Quo carne carnis conditor. (Upon it Life did death endure). 

Most wondrous tree wound round by light

Fairest of trees. 

Rest yourselves under the tree, 

Arbor decora et fulgida, (O beautiful refulgent tree

Ornata regis purpura. (Adorned with the purple of a king). 

That tree of which no man knows

Where its roots run. 

The old tree groans. 

Salve ara, salve victima. (Hail, alter, and hail, victim)

Now you may know what I have endured

Of sore sorrows.

De passionis gloria, (Because of the glory of the passion) 

Qua vita mortem pertulit. (In that passion life endured death)

Et morte vitam reddidit. (And by dying gave back life.)

For if they do these things when the tree is green, 

What will happen when it is dry?

The Lord’s rood, that gallows tree for mankind’s sin, 

From this loaned life will fetch me away, 

And bring me then where is much bliss. 

English text sourced from The Bible (Genesis and Luke), Voluspa and Havamal (from The Poetic Edda), The Dream of the Rood, Norwegian and Anglo Saxon Rune poems, and David Jones In Parenthesis (first line only). The Latin text is formed of excerpts from the Vexilla Regis (The Holy Cross) hymn.


"Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s In the Crypt of the Wood (2015) was the most recent commission performed, in which the composer’s characteristic sensitivity to text is evidenced by the way the relationships between the diverse texts – which include excerpts from the Bible, the poetry of David Jones, The Poetic Edda, Norwegian and Anglo Saxon Rune poetry and the Latin hymn Vexilla Regis (The Holy Cross) – are given musical form.  Initially, solo voices unfold melodies above or interspersed with the close-knit, homophonic ensemble statements; subsequent imitative interplay drives forward to the climactic cries to the ‘wondrous tree wound round with light’, before a gradual return to the homophonic textures of the opening is effected, conveying the peace offered by the assurance that the ‘Lord’s rood … from this loaned life will fetch me away and bring me then where is much bliss’.  The vocal writing is challenging, requiring agility and precision, particularly in the complex contrapuntal episodes, and in order to ensure the simultaneous glissandi are neat and achieve their emotive effect.  At times Opus Anglicanum seemed a little hesitant, but overall they succeeded in conveying the work’s spiritual mysteries and joys.

Claire Seymour, Seen and Heard International

Performance history (post-premiere)

Recorded by the BBC Singers conducted by Katie Thomas in February 2018 along with eight of Cheryl's other choral works. These recordings were then broadcast over two afternoons during BBC Radio 3's Afternoon Concert programme on the 4th and 5th June 2018.

13th July 2016 - Opus Anglicanum at Queen Mary University, London, UK


Recording available from Opus Anglicanum (this work was recorded on a CD that is available at their concerts)