Three Poems of Walter de la Mare
Three songs for mezzo soprano and piano
i. Alas, Alack!
[ 2 pages, circa 55" ]
Ann, Ann! Come quick as you can!
There's a fish that
talks in the frying pan!
Out of the fat, as clear as glass,
up his mouth and moaned, "Alas!"
Oh, most mournful 'Alas, alack!'
Then turned to his sizzling, and sank him back.
ii. The Song of Shadows
[ 3 pages, circa 2' 10" ]
Sweep thy faint strings, Musician,
With thy long, lean
Downward the starry tapers burn,
Sinks soft the waning sand;
The old hound whimpers couched in sleep,
The embers smoulder low;
Across the wall the shadows
Come, and go.
Sweep softly thy
The minutes mount to hours;
Frost on the
windless casement weaves
A labyrinth of flowers;
Ghosts linger in
the darkening air,
hearken at the opening door;
Music hath called
Home once more.
[ 4 pages, circa 2' 15" ]
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white
Of doves in silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse
goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
Total duration [ 9 pages, circa 5' 20" ]
Walter de la Mare
Walter de la Mare (1873-1953), British novelist and poet,
is loosely connected with the literary tradition of Wordsworth and
Coleridge. His career as a writer started in about 1895 and he continued
to publish to the end of his life. His first published story, Kismet
(1895), appeared in the Sketch under the pseudonym Walter Ramal. De la
Mare's reputation as a poet was established by the volume The
Listeners and Other Poems (1912). Called a "poet of dusk," De la
Mare wrote for both children and adults. His best-known novel is
Memoirs of a Midget (1921), which won the James Tait Black Memorial
Prize in 1922. In his poems de la Mare has described the English
sea and coast, the secret and hidden world of nature. Through his
favorite themes, childhood, death, dreams, commonplace objects and
events, de la Mare examined with a touch of mystery and often with an
undercurrent of melancholy.
These settings for mezzo soprano were sweetly debuted at
UCLA by Nicole Baker and pianist Ted Crane, during my time at the
university studying education and aesthetics with the delightful Abraham
Schwadron and my gentle friend of many years, Maurice Gerow, with whom I
had sung for many years as a colleague. With Maurice's retirement
and Dr. Schwadron's death occurring about the same time I was given
professional contracts for performances at Carnegie Hall and the
Metropolitan, I concluded quite rightly that pursuing a degree and
subsequent career in music education were not my next steps in life. The
music education faculty of UCLA was diminished by their absence.
The three show something of the range of this poet, from
the humorous "Alas, alack!' to the more wistful and melancholy side of
the poet's oeuvre. In "Alas, alack!' the fish in the frying pan utters
its last words, as the sizzle of sixteenth notes runs along beneath the
melody line much as the fire under the frying pan.
The more lyrical and melancholy side to de la Mare is
shown in this setting of "The Song of the Shadows." The score is noted
as "con rubato a piacere," as the performers are encouraged to find
their own understanding of the musical gestures, phrasing and
interpretation. The subject of the text is music and death, for music --
de la Mare capitalizes both "Musician" and "Music" -- calls us ghosts
The final setting, "Silver," is a arched form or bow, in
which the sections are reprised in reverse order -- a - b -c -d - c -b
-a -- as seemed to befit the text when I set it. The many repetitions of
the word, silver, reflect the moonlight's coloring of a landscape, its
details and the creature by which he populates that landscape. Sitting
between D major and B minor, the sections of this arch each center on a
different yet related tonal region, examining those tonal domains as de
la Mare examines his "silver" landscape. Thus the opening gesture's E
over F-sharp announces an ambivalence as to the true tonic of the
setting, cadencing in B, and preparing the "a" section in D major which
does not truly define its tonic. The "b" section teeters towards B
minor, while the next sections survey the major and minor dominants of
B, the final cadence of the song setting.
The score 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.
Three Poems of Walter de la Mare