2019 – for SATB Chorus (5:00)


As I Went in a Mery Mornyng



As I Went in a Mery Mornyng was commissioned by Edward Elwyn Jones, Gund University Organist and Choirmaster, and Carson P. Cooman, Composer-in-Residence, for the 110th Annual Christmas Carol Services at the Memorial Church at Harvard University. It received its premiere on December 9, 2019, by the Harvard University Choir, Edward Jones conducting.

The text of As I Went in a Mery Mornyng comes from a 15th-century carol of unknown authorship, for which the music does not survive. It is a fascinating example of the curious late-medieval fad of timor mortis (“fear of death”) poetry and songwriting. These works, written in vernacular old English, dip into Latin for invoking the fear of death, which as this text shows, was an omnipresent concern in everyday European life and by no means a barrier to carrying about one’s business (or, as in this text, appreciating the merriness of a morning) with blithe acceptance. I can’t help but ponder how much more anxiously we live now, despite the relative prosperity, security and comforts afforded by contemporary society. What is there really to fear in the end, other than the inevitable? And what might life be, in the absence of its shadow?


In what estate soever I be,
Timor mortis conturbat me.

As I went in a mery mornyng,
I hard a byrd bothe wep and syng;
Thys was the tenowr of her talkyng,
Timor mortis conturbat me.

I asked that byrd what sche ment.
“I am a musket bothe fayer and gent,
For dred of deth I am al schent;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

“Whan I schal dey I know no day,
What countre or place I can not sey;
Wherfor thys song syng I may,
Timor mortis conturbat me.

“Iesu Cryst, whane he schuld dey,
To hys Fader he gan sey,
‘Fader,’ he seyd, ‘in Trinyte,
Timor mortis conturbat me.’”

Al Crysten pepull, behold and se,
This world is but a vanyte,
And replet with necessyte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Wak I or sclep, ete or drynke,
Whan I on my last end do thynk,
For grete fer my sowle do shrynke;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

God graunte us grace hym for to serue,
And be at owr end whan we sterue,
And frome the fynd he us preserue;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

(Anonymous, 15th century)


December 8 & 10, 2019
The Memorial Church, Cambridge, MA
Harvard University Choir
Edward Jones, conductor

Copyright 2013-22 by Michael Schachter. michael.schachter [at] gmail.com