Jeremy Budd (treble), St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, John Scott (conductor)
When Friedrich Wilhelm IV succeeded his father as King of Prussia in 1840, many reforms and changes were anticipated. One such reform was the reconstitution of The Berlin Academy of Arts which was expanded to include a new section for music. The king wanted Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) to take charge of this enterprise, and the composer was asked to go to Berlin for a year. His duties, however, were unclear, and it was only in 1843 that they came into focus. As one of his tasks, Mendelssohn was to direct the newly formed cathedral choir which consisted of male voices, although his duties were seriously impeded by the choir authorities. Mendelssohn wrote a series of cantatas based on Psalm texts at this time, and it seems that his work with the cathedral choir put the composer in the right frame of mind for writing shorter choral pieces. William Bartholomew of Walcot Place, Hackney, and adaptor of many of Mendelssohn’s English texts, wrote to the composer in 1843 requesting ‘one or two sacred solos with an organ accompaniment for some concerts we are to give at Crosby Hall, a renovated Gothic Structure which was once the palace of Richard the Third’. The concerts were those of Ann Sheppard Mounsey, whom Bartholomew married in 1853. The texts submitted were Judges 16: 23–31 (the ‘Death Prayer of Samson’) and a version of the opening of Psalm 55. The latter text was accepted by Mendelssohn, and this became Hear my prayer which was first performed on 25 January 1844. The original manuscript bears the heading ‘a paraphrasic version of Ps. 1v.’.