song cycle for mezzo soprano and piano
Composition Date: 2018
Commissioned by Painswick Music Society.
First performed by Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton on 12 May 2018 at St Mary’s Church, Painswick, Gloucestershire.
DAY OF THESE DAYS
song cycle for mezzo soprano and piano
for Sarah Connolly
in memory of Beryl Calver-Jones
POEMS BY LAURIE LEE
I. Day of these Days
II. Town Owl
III. April Rise
IV. Long Summer
V. Day of these Days reprise
I discovered Laurie Lee's writing on my parents' bookshelves, and one of my earliest piano pieces was inspired by a verse of his. Already a fan, my violinist mother was invited to play quartets with him in the early 70s at one of the regular chamber music evenings he held at his home. My son's name (also Laurie) was chosen partly because of my fascination with Lee's work.
When I was asked to write a song cycle by Painswick Music Society, and it was suggested that I look at Gloucestershire poets, Laurie Lee seemed an obvious choice. My connection with Painswick goes back to 1998, and the premiere of my work for cello and piano, Bridging the Day, commissioned by Gerry Mattock, and inspired by the cottage he shared with Beryl Calver-Jones in the Forest of Dean. They commissioned many pieces from me after that, and Day of These Days, dedicated to Sarah Connolly, is written in Beryl's memory.
The cycle follows the turn of the seasons, beginning with Day of These Days – an ecstatic depiction of autumn. This first song is very simply set.
The second song portrays the ghostly ballroom, the sinister call of the owl, and its unsettling presence in the city.
April Rise is coloured with bright upward flashes of piano, and Long Summer is set against a haze of piano semiquavers, settling only as the scene melts into an expression of sensual passion.
The reprise of the first song – a return to autumn – suggests that the cycle is unbroken – a continuous loop.
Day of These Days was commissioned by Painswick Music Society, and first performed by Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton on 12th May 2018, in St Mary's Church, Painswick, Gloucestershire.
Sally Beamish 2018
I. DAY OF THESE DAYS
Such a morning it is when love
leans through geranium windows
and calls with a cockerel's tongue.
When red-haired girls scamper like roses
over the rain-green grass;
and the sun drips honey.
When hedgerows grow venerable,
berries dry black as blood,
and holes suck in their bees.
Such a morning it is when mice
run whispering from the church,
dragging dropped ears of harvest.
When the partridge draws back his spring
and shoots like a buzzing arrow
over grained and mahogany fields.
When no table is bare,
and no beast dry,
and the tramp feeds on ribs of rabbit.
II. TOWN OWL
On eves of cold, when slow coal fires,
rooted in basements, burn and branch,
brushing with smoke the city air;
When quartered moons pale in the sky,
and neons glow along the dark
like deadly nightshade on a briar;
Above the muffled traffic then
I hear the owl, and at his note
I shudder in my private chair.
For like an auger he has come
to roost among our crumbling walls,
his blooded talons sheathed in fur.
Some secret lure of time it seems
has called him from his country wastes
to hunt a newer wasteland here.
And where the candlabra swung
bright with the dancers’ thousand eyes,
now his black, hooded pupils stare.
And where the silk-shoed lovers ran
with dust of diamonds in their hair,
he opens now his silent wing,
And, like a stroke of doom, drops down,
and swoops across the empty hall,
and plucks a quick mouse off the stair...
III. APRIL RISE
If ever I saw blessing in the air
I see it now in this still early day
Where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye.
Blown bubble-film of blue, the sky wraps round
Weeds of warm light whose every root and rod
Splutters with soapy green, and all the world
Sweats with the bead of summer in its bud.
If ever I heard blessing it is there
Where birds in trees that shoals and shadows are
Splash with their hidden wings and drops of sound
Break on my ears their crests of throbbing air.
Pure in the haze the emerald sun dilates,
The lips of sparrows milk the mossy stones,
While white as water by the lake a girl
Swims her green hand among the gathered swans.
Now, as the almond burns its smoking wick,
Dropping small flames to light the candled grass;
Now, as my low blood scales its second chance,
If ever world were blessed, now it is.
IV. LONG SUMMER
Gold as an infant's humming dream,
Stamped with its timeless, tropic blush,
The steady sun stands in the air
And burns like Moses' holy bush.
And burns while nothing it consumes;
The smoking branch but greener grows,
The crackling briar, from budded lips,
A floating stream of blossom blows.
A daze of hours, a blaze of noons,
Licks my cold shadow from the ground;
A flaming trident rears each dawn
To stir the blood of earth around.
Unsinged beneath the furnace sky
The frenzied beetle runs reborn,
The ant his antic mountain moves,
The rampant ram rewinds his horn.
I see the crazy bees drop fat
From tulips ten times gorged and dry;
I see the sated swallow plunge
To drink the dazzled waterfly.
A halo flares around my head,
A sunflower flares across the sun,
While down the summer's seamless haze
Such feasts of milk and honey run
That lying with my orchid love,
Whose kiss no frost of age can sever,
I cannot doubt the cold is dead,
The gold earth turned to good – forever.
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