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The Lion and the Deer

Composition Date: 2007

Duration: 20'

Orchestration: CT/children's spoken voices/SATB/solo tpt/solo vc/timp.perc/hp/strings

Text: Jila Peacock



Commissioned by Portsmouth Grammar School.

First performed by London Mozart Players conducted by Michael Chance, with Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir conducted by Nicolae Moldoveanu, at Cathedral Church of St. Thomas, Portsmouth, 11 November 2007.

Programme Note:


Music by Sally Beamish


from Divan e Hafez, translated by Jila Peacock

and selected from War and Conflict: by members of Year 7 at The Portsmouth Grammar School

  1. Hoopoe (a)

  2. Deer

  3. Falcon

  4. Lion

  5. Horse

  6. Hoopoe (b)

When Jila Peacock sent me her ‘shape poem’ calligraphies – Persian texts by Hafez, the 14th century metaphysical poet of Iran, they immediately suggested music. Each bird or animal, fashioned from Hafez’s texts, was accompanied by Jila’s own translation, and together we began to plan how these might form a musical work.

In 2006 I was asked by Leeds Lieder+ to write a song cycle for Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles, and also by Portsmouth Grammar School to write a choral work for their annual Remembrance Day concert. These two offers seemed to link together, and I felt that both were ideal vehicles for Jila’s translations. Only one poem overlaps the two works, and this is the opening Hoopoe, which closes the Four Songs from Hafez cycle for Leeds, and, in a more developed version, opens and closes The Lion and the Deer. In Islamic mythology the hoopoe is the love messenger between Solomon and Sheba, the male and female aspects of the Divine countenance.

Like Jila Peacock’s ‘shape poems’, each of my settings reflects a bird or animal alluded to in the poem. The solo counter tenor part was written for Michael Chance, and the orchestration is founded on a small string orchestra, with trumpet, timpani, cello and harp soloists.

The first song, Hoopoe, is a solo for counter tenor, with the refrain ‘I will send you’, echoed by the choir. The trumpet, strong and lyrical, rides over the text, and the call of the bird is heard in glissando string solos.

The second, for choir, suggests the gentle footfall of a deer, with soft timpani beats, and steady, canonic choral writing. The colours are dark and pensive, using only the lower strings. The music is coloured by rustling bamboo chimes and rain stick. The harp writing is inspired by Classical Iranian setar music, with repeated notes and fast flourishes.

Falcon, the bird that can see the path to the Divine, is a double fanfare for counter tenor and trumpet. The choir provide wordless texture, and the strings long solo lines, using intervals typical of Persian chants.

Lion, the most optimistic of the movements, is the choral climax of the piece, with bright tonal colour and celebratory cymbals and gongs.

Horse, symbol of fidelity, is underpinned by wild and relentless timpani hooves, but contrasts with dreamy, measured vocal writing, and overlapping choral echoes. The central section features trumpet and harp, pausing for a moment before launching into the final gallop towards the end of the movement, and fading into the distance.

In the final song, which is a continuation/conclusion of the opening ‘Hoopoe’, the trumpet and timpani are silent. The former declamatory trumpet solos have become more gentle, reflective solo cello lines.

Through the six songs runs another strand. By placing the Hafez’ words in the context of Remembrance Day, I hoped to reflect an ultimate human goal – a theme of enduring love. I asked Claire Jepson, the Head of English at the school, if she would get the youngest pupils in the Senior School to think about war, and then express their reflections. This came to involve discussion of haikus. Several of the pupils experimented with this form and I have used extracts from this writing in counterpoint to the Hafez texts. Many of these lines (shown below in italics, and spoken by children) echo the same sentiment – that of the futility of conflict, and the desire for harmony amongst mankind. In the imagery of Hafez, the lion is Apollonian, or Mars, in contrast to the deer: Venus, or Love.

The Lion and the Deer was commissioned by The Portsmouth Grammar School for its Remembrance Sunday Concert in Portsmouth Cathedral on 11 November 2007, and first performed on that occasion by The Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir (Chorus Master Andrew Cleary) and the London Mozart Players (Leader David Juritz) with soloists Michael Chance (counter tenor), Paul Archibald (trumpet) Sebastian Comberti (cello) and Skaila Kanga (harp), under the LMP/PGS Associate Conductor Nicolae Moldoveanu.

Sally Beamish 2007

1. Hoopoe (a)

O Hoopoe of the east wind,

To Sheba I shall send you.

Take heed from where to where

I shall send you

Pity a bird like you

Lodged in a well of sorrow.

From here, to the nest of devotion

I shall send you

Whispering in the winds

Each dawn and dusk,

Convoys of sweet invocations

I shall send you

Row by row the poppies grow

And no one tends them.

2. Deer

The Clouds of spring bear witness to these troubled times

Though rainy tears deliver Daffodil and Rose

The sky was falling

The noise hurt my ears, help, I

Can’t see through my tears.

Take comfort in the cup and banish fear of friend or foe

For the last has fled and the first is come

And hearing songs of Hafez from the nightingale

The scented zephyr, sentinel is come

A sandstorm that will come

To deliver death

Rejoice you lonely seeker of the scented path

Out of the wilderness the perfumed deer is come

3. Falcon

‘When all is said and done,

What have you gained?

The falcons of the path repose content as flies,

Such is the sweetness of this world.

Bullets fizz like wasps

planting their stings

In the hearts of men.

But I have seen the lightening flash from Sinai,

And I can bring you brands of burning bush.

Row by row the poppies grow

And no one tends them.

The caravan has left you

Sleeping in the wilderness.

The battle rages

Over barren wasteland

But fighting for what?

How many bells must ring

To rouse you from your daze?

Pity a bird like you

Imprisoned in a cage.

Spread your wings and sing

From the Tree of Paradise.’

In war,

Everyone loses

And no end in sight

4. Lion

You blow away the hats of worldly status

And shatter the coronets of power with royal ease

The grace of your stride wins the cherished orb

Subdues the houri and outshines the fairy’s fire

With the eyes of a deer you tame the lion of the sun

And the fold of your brow razes the arc of Jupiter

Incense streaming from your hair shames

The hyacinth’s perfumed curls

As the Persian songs of Hafez

Outsing the eloquent nightingale

Shouts all around; I

Close my eyes and block out sound

Cries are around me

The loud noises deafen me

No one comes for me.

5. Horse

The rose opens crimson

And the nightingale is drunk with love.

Our time of joy comes tied to care,

As bliss was bound to loss at time’s dawn.

Even Solomon’s splendour,

His horse of the winds,

The language of the birds

Are lost with the wind.

Each shining arrow soars a while

But must return to dust.

So do not waver from the path

Love life now,

For oblivion completes all design.

O Hafez, rejoicing in the beauty of your pen,

See how we pass your words from heart to heart!

Is there such a thing as “fair play”?

Who can decide that?

6. Hoopoe (b)

The Boy is running

The Boy’s feet are Black with Pain

The legions of despair

Cannot destroy that inner jewel,

As my own dear life in tribute

I shall send you

War: Gunshots, fighting death,

No winning, just losing.

Crying, then, silence.

Bring me the cup.

For my inner voice is calling:

‘Endure this grief, for the balm

I shall send you’

War is horrible

People die for no reason

It will kill us all

Rubbish tip of death

But fighting for what?

Love’s face

Reveals the joy of all Creation

In the God-reflecting mirror

I shall send you

In quest of love

There is no near or far but only now


Available Recordings:

The Lion and the Deer: I. Hoopoe

The Lion and the Deer: II. Deer

The Lion and the Deer: III. Falcon

The Lion and the Deer: IV. Lion

The Lion and the Deer: V. Horse

The Lion and the Deer: VI. Hoopoe (b)

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