The King-fisher Song
for high voice and piano
King Fisher courted Lady Bird--
Sing Beans, sing Bones, sing Butterflies!
'Find me my match,' he said,
'With such a noble head--
With such a beard, as white as curd--
With such expressive eyes!'
'Yet pins have heads,' said Lady Bird--
Sing Prunes, sing Prawns, sing Primrose-Hill!
'And, where you stick them in,
They stay, and thus a pin
Is very much to be preferred
To one that’s never still!'
'Oysters have beards,' said Lady Bird--
Sing Flies, sing Frogs, sing Fiddle-strings!
'I love them, for I know
They never chatter so:
They would not say one single word--
Not if you crowned them Kings!'
'Needles have Eyes,' said Lady Bird--
Sing Cats, sing Corks, sing Cowslip-tea!
'And they are sharp--just what
Your Majesty is not:
So get you gone--’tis too absurd
To come a-courting me!'
[ 5 pages, circa 3' 50" ]
Having set so many texts of Carroll -- including libretti redacted from his
Wonderland and Looking-Glass tales, the wonderful nonsense of
Lewis Carroll has been a source of joy for me. So thinking on this text from
Sylvie and Bruno Concluded recently brought a few gestures and motives
to mind out of which this setting quickly sprung.
Written for high voice, the joyous notion of singing a repeated refrain "in
the middle" of a text amused me.
[ 1 ]
The refrain, which rises to the highest part of the tessitura begins with
each "Sing," an appropriate verb such that I notate a portamento up
to it. This gesture became the opening quintuplets as the rise to each note
of the tonic triad is a pianistic version of this as well. The 32nd note
gestures as at measure six are ornaments to hearken back to a classic style,
all the while some of the harmonies however sweet and triadic are most
assuredly much more contemporary.
The last strophe repeats the notion of absurdity, for nonsense literature is
rooted in our human joy with so much which might well be said to be silly.
Even so, Carroll reminds us in a way to remain "sharp," in the same way that
honing a knife is repetitious yet fully necessary to its purpose. Just so
the seeming nonsense of rhyme and storytelling is also a pathway to joy as
to laughter, without which life must be dour and less full than it can
The score for The King-fisher Song 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 piano-vocal score.
The King-fisher Song
[ 1 ]
I was just beginning to say “I’m afraid I don’t know the words”, when Sylvie
silently turned the map over, and I found the words were all written on the
back. In one respect it was a very peculiar song: the chorus to each verse
came in the middle, instead of at the end of it. However, the tune was so
easy that I soon picked it up, and managed the chorus as well, perhaps, as
it is possible for one person to manage such a thing. It was in vain that I
signed to Sylvie to help me: she only smiled sweetly and shook her head.
(from Lewis Carroll's
Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, "Bruno’s Lessons")