Tree Carols

Composition Date: 2014

Instrumentation: Bar, 2Vln, Vla, Vc

Information:

 

Commissioned by the University of Warwick. First performance by the Coull Quartet with Roderick Williams, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, 5 March 2014. 

 

Programme Note:

 

 

Tree Carols

 

Poems: Fiona Sampson

Music: Sally Beamish

 

 

The idea for this collaboration first came about in 2009, when the Coull Quartet approached me about writing a work with Fiona Sampson. The quartet, Fiona and I discussed at length what form the piece might take, and after some months, Fiona sent me three ‘tree’ poems. I felt I could respond to them immediately. Once I started to write the music, though, I realised more poems would be needed, and Fiona created to more to complete the set.

 

I asked to write for Roderick Williams, and the settings are written very much with his voice in mind. I know Roddy’s voice well, as he created the role of Byron in my opera with Janice Galloway, Monster, in 2002. The songs tend to feature the higher register of the baritone range.

 

The first poem is set against a string ‘shimmer’ with small solos breaking through. The second is a canon, building in gusts which hover around an unsettled ‘heartbeat’ rhythm in 5/8 time. The central movement is recitative-like, with aggressive chordal interjections from the strings, containing a brief lullaby interlude before the angry mood returns. The fourth song is characterised by wide, searching intervals and pulsing chords. The work finishes with a song accompanied by birdcalls overlapping in a circular canon, with raw rising fifths.

 

 Tree Carols was commissioned by the University of Warwick for the Coull Quartet.

 

Sally Beamish 2013

 

 

 

 

Tree Carols

 

Fiona Sampson

 

 

1. The Miracle Tree

 

 

The true Rood

is in the tree –

 

white

as rising sap,                                                                                                   

the Christ-white blood

 

The true tree

is in the Rood –                                              

 

red

as the breaking bark                                        

where the yew bleeds                                      

 

The Rood

holds up life                                                    

 

in blood-red apple

and bruised pear,

sweet fruit

 

The tree

holds up death –                                             

 

ransacked body,                                                          

hunger and juice

The graveyard miracle

 

2. The trees are troubled…

 

The trees are troubled by a wind

that blows from the heart                               

of each tree, a troubled wind                         

speaking the word Loss,                                

 

taking a breath to speak the word

again, speaking Loss

as if it were the only word –              

and at its heart                                                

                                                                       

the swaying O of the heartwood                      

where death opens                 

Strange birth, when living wood                                           

is forced open                                    

 

by this world                          

as it changes into world

 

3. Vigil

                                               

 

God – crush this                                                                                 

stem of anger,                                     

crumple my neck                                                        

like paper

 

Lord of Envies –                                                          

Vinegar King –

refuse me                                                                    

your unceasing heaven                                                

 

but make me sleep –                                                                           

hopeless, whole,                                                          

attended                                                                                  

by each nightly ghost –                                                           

 

to wake at last

in borrowed skin

clothing a shame                                                         

that Love let in                                                                       

 

You whose daylight                                                                

thrills the nerves –                                                                                                      

burn me now                                                                          

as I deserve

 

 

4. The tree is a changing sky…

 

 

The tree is a changing sky                             

starred with light                                                        

Dizzy with apple picking                               

I place my ladder                                           

 

so it rises                                            

so its stiles go breaking                     

and entering this bright                                                                                  

constellation – built in air

 

as constellations are –

Among the sway and surge of leaves

I rise in a leaf-lather                          

 

Green is the colour of grief

but for one season

I have ascended to tree heaven                                              

                                                                                   

 

Bushes and Briars

 

            If I showed to him my boldness

He’d ne’er love me more.

                          ‘Bushes and Briars’ (trad.)

 

Liquid voice

from the ash 

 

a bird sings     

Leaves gleam                                                             

 

Old voice

your sweet fall

 

tells over

an old story                                                     

 

A girl lost

in the copse                                                    

 

Her baby cries

Leaves lean down

 

Her baby cries

with the thrush’s voice                                                

 

from every bush

every tree

 

Sing lullaby

on the ash-branch

 

sing lullaby

your mother sleeps

 

The tears she weeps                                                                

are blood

 

Buy/Hire from Edition Peters

 

 

Available Recordings:

 

 

 

 

Please reload

Search By Tags
Please reload

Follow on Social Media
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Facebook - White Circle
  • Twitter - White Circle
  • YouTube - White Circle
  • w-facebook
  • Twitter Clean
  • White YouTube Icon