Shakespeare Songs (3) for chorus Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams
All three of the Songs maintain a pretty consistently quiet dynamic. Rather than create a series of brash, virtuoso showpieces, Vaughan Williams went in the direction of subtlety and restraint.
The first song, Full Fathom Five (from The Tempest), imitates the sounds of bells; the tonality is not quite stable at first, but becomes more so in the contrasting, melodic middle section.
The cloud-capp’d towers from Prospero’s farewell speech in The Tempest, is largely homophonic in texture and quite haunting. Vaughan Williams cited a portion of this text (“We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”) in relation to the eerie and desolate final movement of his Symphony No. 6 (1948), and this song shares in some of that atmosphere.
A brief and lively Over hill, over dale (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) closes the set.
Flower Songs (5), for chorus, Op. 47 Composer: Benjamin Britten
The first of the Five Flower Songs is based on poetry by Robert Herrick. “To Daffodils” compares the life, death, and decay of daffodils to the similar human experiences. This song is written in two-part form. In the first section, Britten divides the chorus into two groups. The sopranos and basses begin the song, and the altos and tenors enter a measure later, musically imitating. A triplet figure is prevalent here. The chorus is redivided in the second section with the sopranos, altos, and tenors presenting the melody while the basses provide the accompaniment, restating the triplet figure.
Britten chose to base the second song on another work by Herrick. “The Succession of Four Sweet Months” is about the months of April, May, June, and July. According to the speaker, each month is more beautiful than the last and July is the greatest month of the year.
“Marsh Flowers” is the third song, based on a poem by George Crabbe. A flower and its swamp environment are the subjects of the poem. This song has many interesting voice combinations and imitations.
The fourth song is based on a John Clare poem, “The Evening Primrose.” The song is a tranquil setting of this description of a pale rose that blooms only at night.
The final song, “Ballad of Green Broom,” is an anonymous poem. The story is of a broom maker and his lazy son. The father forces his son to take up the trade, then the boy weds and grows to become a respected broom maker. The accompaniment of this song conveys an image of metered woodcutting.
“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” (Shakespeare, “The Tempest”)
Giorgio de Chirico