for mixed choir (SATB with divisi) a cappella
Text: English (Shelley)
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Where I live there’s a common which meets the sea, and when walking there, the only birds I ever seem to hear are skylarks. It is thought that skylarks sing to ward off predators out to steal their young from nests hidden in the long grass. It seems profound and wonderful to me that they hover high in the sky, far above the troubles below, constantly emitting beautiful song. Would that we could constantly sing or praise through the ups and downs of life!
Shelley’s poem paints such a glorious picture of the skylark. In my setting of just a few verses of this lengthy poem, I attempt, through the quick, light, undulating melodies, to portray this joyous bird flitting its wings and pouring forth its rapturous strains. The music is quite dissonant at times and the tonality a little unstable. Trouble and danger may be close at hand, but the skylarks’ song continues above it. In the final verse, the poet brings the focus on himself, longing perhaps that he could live life with the same carefree gladness of the skylark. I try to capture this contemplative mood in the slower, more expressive music of the closing section. The piece ends very softly; all is still as we listen attentively to the birdsong.
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,
O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
Thou dost float and run;
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Becky was born in 1974 and grew up in Cornwall. She studied music at Royal Holloway, University of London, and after graduating, returned to Cornwall where she now leads a busy musical life as a composer, cellist, and piano and cello teacher. Becky developed a love of singing at an early age and her interest in sacred choral music grew during her time as a member of the Royal Holloway Chapel Choir. She now composes mainly choral music and draws much of her inspiration from her Christian faith. Her works, which include psalm settings, carols, and settings of other texts, biblical and secular, are written in a recognisable, engaging and personal style. Becky’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem In the bleak midwinter has become very widely performed following its premiere recording by Truro Cathedral Choir, broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and publication by Boosey & Hawkes. She has also written numerous songs for solo voice and works for string ensembles.