Aubade - (2009)
for mezzo soprano and piano
Tall as a crane,
The morning light creaks down again;
Comb your cockscomb-ragged hair,
Jane, Jane, Come down the stair.
Each dull blunt wooden stalactite
Of rain creaks, hardened by the light,
Sounding like an overtone
From some lonely world unknown.
creaking empty light
Will never harden into sight,
penetrate your brain
With overtones like the blunt rain,
(if it could harden)
Eternities of kitchen garden,
that none will pluck,
And wooden flowers
'gin to cluck.
In the kitchen you must light
Flames as staring,
red and white,
As carrots or as turnips, shining
Where the old
dawn light lies whining
Cockscomb hair on the cold wind
turns the milk's weak mind...
Tall as a crane,
The morning light
creaks down again!
[ 5 pages, circa 4' 45" ]
Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was a British author, poet, biogrpaher and
literary critic, who began her writing career with a poem published in the
Daily Mirror in 1913. An innovator in poetry at the beginning of the
20th century, she both gave and received harsh criticism of other
contemporary poets. Eclectic, even odd, in her life style and dress perhaps
as complaint against her aristocratic lineage, she gave many public readings
of her poetry, including those with music by her colleague of that time,
William Walton. She did not marry, though she made poet Dylan Thomas her
protégé. She received a Royal Society of Literature medal in 1933 and DBE in
1954. In 1955 she converted to Roman Catholicism. Throughout the remainder
of her life, she continued her writing and readings.
Originally published as "Aubade", from Saturday Westminster Gazette,
October 1920, the title in French might be understood both as a "serenade to
morning," but also a "serenade of morning." Jane, the character Sitwell
describes, greets the dawn unwillingly, perhaps begrudgingly. The images are
angular, if not tinted with small anger. "Tall as a crane" suggests
something of a personal confession for Sitwell herself was six feet tall as
well as angular in body.
The opening gesture comes from the rhythmic shape of a rooster's crow which
I have heard many times, as the announcement of dawn. The harmonic gestures
are consistently polytonal, the upper voices a minor seventh above the lower
voices as the suspensions release into continuing dissonances. Only at
measure 12 and in similar instances following does the "dawn" become more
consonant in its major eleven tonic chords, a call for and glimmer of
loveliness before the return to the more dissonant polytonal vocabulary of
The dotted triplet gestures outlining the tonic eleven and some lower
neighbor notes speak of the rain of which Sitwell adds into the atmosphere
of the text and its images.
The text repeats the opening lines at its end, and so I add again a reprise
of the musical setting to Sitwell's reprise as "the morning light creeps
down again" is accompanied by the falling vocal line in echo of this
sentiment and the character's experience in her "morning serenade."
The score for Aubade is available as a free PDF download, though any
major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without
prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this