God is gone up – a song for the Ascension – was commissioned by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge and had its first concert performance at the Spitalfields Festival, London on June 20th 2014. It is dedicated to the memory of John Tavener.
In this vivid setting of the Ascension scene, Jesus’ apostles (choir) have gloomily watched him vanish into the sky, accompanied by a fanfare which gradually fades to silence. The distant voices of angels (three solo sopranos placed high on a gallery and far from the choir) are heard from heaven, singing Jesus’ name in Greek. Two angelic figures (alto, tenor and bass soli, singing as one) appear beside them and ask (in Latin) why they are staring up at the sky: “Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini?”. The apostles express their sorrow at the departure of Jesus. The angelic visitors, using the Greek words of a hymn quoted by St Paul, explain Jesus’ incarnation, importance to mankind, and ascension in glory. The apostles repeat (in English) each line after the angels, and gradually regain their spirits. The tempo increases until it is twice the speed of the opening – at which point the fanfare returns, but this time as the counterpoint to a triumphant “Allêlouïa” sung by all voices. Over the top of this, the three heavenly sopranos sing the Greek words of the ancient acrostic used as a symbol by early Christians: “Iêsous Christos Theou Huios Sôtêr” (Jesus saviour, anointed son of God), the initial letters of which spell the Greek word for fish.