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O Gladsome Light : for amplified three part female choir with river stones and digital delay

by Constantine Koukias (2004)

Work Overview

Φῶς Ἱλαρόν - Phos Hilaron is an ancient Christian hymn originally written in New Testament Greek. The hymn is known in English as 'Hail Gladdening Light' or 'O Gladsome Light'. It is the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still being used today.

The hymn is featured in the vespers of the Byzantine liturgy used by the Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholic traditions, as well as being included in some modern Anglican and Lutheran liturgies.

The song is first recorded by an unknown author in the Apostolic Constitutions which was written in the late 3rd or early 4th Century A.D. It is found in a collection of songs to be sung in the morning, in the evening, before meals, and at candle lighting. Phos Hilaron is to be sung at the lighting of lamps in the evening and so is sometimes known as the 'Lamp-lighting Hymn'.

Despite some of the words to the other three songs being from Scripture or in one case dated to around 150 A.D., Phos Hilaron is the first to be considered an actual hymn in the modern sense. It is certainly the first complete example. It is far more rhythmic than the others and is divided into twelve verses varying between five, six, eight, nine, ten and eleven syllables a verse.

Basil the Great (329?-379A.D.) spoke of the singing of the Phos Hilaron as a cherished tradition of the church, the hymn being already considered old in his day (though some attribute the composition of the song to St Basil himself).

At that time in Jerusalem a lamp was kept perpetually burning in the empty tomb of Christ, its glow a symbol of the living light of Jesus. As Christians gathered to worship the hymn was sung and, in a tradition known as the lighting of the lamps, a candle lit from the lamp was brought forth from the tomb, its bright, solitary flame calling the church to celebrate the Risen Lord.

Work Details

Year: 2004

Instrumentation: SSA female choir, river stones, digital delay.

Duration: 5 min.

Difficulty: Medium

Commission note: Commissioned by Joan Wright.. Commissioned for the Ogilvie High Junior Concert Choir, Tasmania


  • In the form/style of: Hymns

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