Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op.36a

Composed: 2004 and arranged in 2005 for voice and piano by Graham.J.Lloyd
Duration:16 minutes.
First performance: August 2005, at Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge, performed by Andrew Kennedy (tenor) and Simon Lepper (piano)
Commissioned: This arrangement for voice and piano was commissioned by Jennie McGregor-Smith.
Available from Novello and company Ltd

1. Easter Hymn
2. When green buds hang in the elm like dust
3. Oh who is that young sinner?
4. Because I liked you better

 Ian Venables’ ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow‘ Op.36 was commissioned in 2004 by Finzi Friends. The cycle comprises of settings of four poems by A.E Housman for tenor, piano and string quartet. This special arrangement for voice and piano by Graham.J Lloyd the cycle was premiered at ‘Celebrating English Song’ at Tardebbige in the summer of 2005.The overall four movement structure takes on a symphonic form with the reversed final movements one finds in a Mahler symphony. Easter Hymn begins expectantly with gentle string writing punctuated by insistent piano chords and a rhythmic motif that subsequently dominates the work. Venables intentionally creates a sound-world that transports the listener to “that Syrian garden” before heralding the work’s first anguished outburst on the words “the hate you died to quench but could not fan”. Towards the second stanza the mood changes to a chordal passage for piano solo marked Lamentoso, whose hymn-like quality borders on mock-reverence: the accusatory tone of the words is at times harshly painted. Easter Hymn ends in a desolate B minor.

When green buds hang in the elm like dust is a more relaxed setting of Housman’s pastoral poem. It opens with muted strings and piano; a triadic figure in the strings providing the gentle rocking necessary to the mood of the piece. The voice’s mellifluous writing soars above instrumental lines, most crucially at three important points in the work. The most striking of these is the ascent to pianissimo by strings and voice on the final line of the poem “are lying about the world”. A short coda presents the rocking figure on the piano: a single G natural providing its enigmatic ending. Oh who is that young sinner? is the most uncompromising of the four movements. Ostensibly about Oscar Wilde, it cleverly depicts prejudice in an almost banal manner – the “young sinner” is to be incarcerated because of “the colour of his hair”. Housman’s genius comes to the fore in confronting prejudice about sexuality through the notion of somebody who is ‘different’. The music reflects this with an insistent piano motif accompanied by pointillistic gestures from the strings. The voice intones the poem as if witnessing the event, like a reporter recounting an event as it happens. Each verse brings something new and builds up to three important climaxes where piano and string quartet vie for prominence. The final verse builds to a flourish of activity before ending ambiguously on an abrupt discord.

By far the most poignant movement in the cycle is Because I liked you better, a deeply moving interpretation of an equally moving poem about a love that cannot be. The disconsolate nature of the poem is mirrored perfectly in the piano opening where a yearning figure in the right hand is accompanied by sparse chords. The only moment of ‘light relief’ is an ironic interpretation of the words, ‘“Goodbye” said you “forget me”’. The masterly use of a C major climax at this point heightens the sense of loss and acceptance that accompanies Housman’s unfortunate couple. The cycle closes with a coda of intense beauty and longing as the work’s main melodic idea is passed between ‘cello and first violin as it moves inexorably towards its mournful close.


Easter Hymn

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright,
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.
But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.

When green buds hang in the elm like dust

When green buds hang in the elm like dust
And sprinkle the lime like rain,
Forth I wander, forth I must,
And drink of life again.
Forth I must by hedgerow bowers
To look at the leaves uncurled,
And stand in the fields where cuckoo-flowers
Are lying about the world.

Oh who is that young sinner?

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.
‘Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time `twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn’t bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.
Oh a deal of pains he’s taken and a pretty price he’s paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they’ve pulled the beggar’s hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they’re haling him to justice for the colour of his hair.
Now `tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feat
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

Because I liked you better

Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
‘Good-bye,’ said you, ‘forget me.’
‘I will, no fear’, said I.
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man’s knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
Halt by the headstone naming,
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word.