From the Song of Songs


From the Song of Songs - (1998)    

Biblical texts edited by Julie Dalton Williamson

Five songs for soprano or mezzo soprano and piano

for my friend and colleague, Julie Dalton Williamson

i.  I am black but comely     [ 4 pages, circa 3' 00" ]

I am black but comely, daughters of Jerusalem;
Beautiful as the desert tents of Kedar,
Beautiful as the curtains of Solomon.
I have stripped of my dress;
Must I put it on again?
I have washed my feet;
Must I soil them again?
Who am I, rising as the dawn?
Fair as the moon?
Clear as the sun?
Terrible as an army with banners?
Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
Where will you lead your flocks to graze?
Where will you rest at noon?

ii.  My Love     [ 4 pages, circa 2' 15" ]

You are wholly beautiful, my love,
Beautiful and without blemish.
You ravish my heart
With a single one of your glances.
Your lips are as a thread of scarlet,
Honey and milk
Are under your tongue.
The scent of your garments
Is the scent of Lebanon
And of cedar.

iii.   I am sick with love    [ 5 pages, circa 4' 00" ]

While I slept by night on my bed,
My heart was a wake.
I dreamed that my love had turned away,
And gone by.
I rose and went through the city,
Among the streets and
through the broad ways.
I sought him, whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but did not find him.
I called him,
but he gave no answer.

To the watchmen, I said,
"Have you seen him,
whom my soul loves?"

They smote me; they wounded me.
the keepers of the walls
took my veil from me.

I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem,
If you should see my love,
Tell him I am sick with love.

While I slept by night on my bed,
My heart was awake.
I dreamed that my love had turned away,
And gone by.
I found him; I held him and
Would not let him go.

iv.   Return!     [ 2 pages, circa 1' 40" ]

My love is mine, and I am his;
He delights in the lilies.

Before the dawn wind rises,
Before the shadows flee, return!
Return, and be, my love,
As the gazelle,
The young stag
On the hills of Beter,
Where the cinnamon grows.

v.   A Seal Upon Your Heart     [ 7 pages, circa 4' 00" ]

Set me as a seal upon your heart;
Close your heart to every love
But mine.
Set me as a seal upon your arms;
Hold no one in your arms
But me.
For love is strong as death;
And passion,
Relentless as the grave.
It bursts into flames, and burns
As the raging fire.
For many waters cannot quench love.
Neither can the floods drown it.
Set me, then, as a seal upon your heart;
Close your heart to every love
But mine.
Set me as a seal upon your arms;
Hold no one in your arms
But me.

[ Total duration - 22 pages, circa 14' 55" ]

Julie Dalton Williamson


These texts are compilations made from many bible sources by Julie Dalton Williamson, during our work together for Opera New Zealand in Auckland. Sir Donald MacIntyre was performing his last Dutchman in Wagner's Der fliegende Holl√§nder, and Julie Dalton was a truly memorable Senta, as well as being a talented graphic artist. 


I had mentioned my appreciation of these texts in a conversation, and spoken of my plans to seek apt excerpts out of the larger biblical text. As a surprise, she presented me with these, after a day's work in the local library there poring over the many different editions of scriptures. Julie wrote of her comparing biblical texts, "I sat in the Auckland University library and made myself very unpopular by spreading them out all over a huge work table! I was a bit 'willy-nilly about it, choosing what spoke to me regardless of order... tut!"  She has since become disabled with the onset of multiple sclerosis, but continues a life of art and creativity. These songs are for her, and she debuted in a private concert in London, 1998, before her illness deepened. Onstage or off, then as now, I greatly appreciate her many gifts, talents and pointed wit.



This set of five songs is written for soprano (or mezzo soprano). The texts survey the emotions of love as both a worry and a constancy, through both anxious questions and affirmative statements and metaphors.


"Fair as the moon"  -  Used by permission

Copyright © 2007 Julie Dalton Williamson


Julie's graphic for the front cover of the score offers us an image of one of the "daughters of Jerusalem," lying under the moon illuminating a night sky. Given the textual images of "before the dawn" and "while I slept" and such questions as "who am I, fair as the moon," the cycle speaks of a woman's longings.


This first song opens with a gesture to evoke the image of an ancient Middle Eastern place and time. The rising and falling musical statements accompany the voice as if an improvisation upon a harp. The parallel fourths and fifths within a modified pentatonic tonal region are intended to reinforce this musical image. 



The second is rhapsodic, as the text speaks affirmatively of the loved one. In a familiar song form, the center section breaks the rhythmic motor of the opening, and again echoes a harp-like accompaniment of parallel chords.



The third setting breaks the affirmative mood, and recalls a disturbing dream that the beloved has turned away, an anxiety common worry to all lovers. The accompaniment opens with the stark fourths and fifths in the bass under a equally stark ornamented note in the treble line. A second section breaks this mood, moving forward rhythmically to underscore the dream's searching and the nightmare-filled images of abuse, though the dream finishes with the finding of the beloved, as she "would not let him go."



The fourth setting is a short ballad, affirmative and joyous as expressed in parallel sixths.



The final song is long-lined and echoes the more affirmative theme of the cycle. A second thematic section recalls the rising scale of the second song and that is followed by a 6/8 section in which love bursting into flames is imaged.  The finale to the song and cycle equivocates with its a slower tempo and a diminuendo, as the last line asks without the form of a question, "Hold no one in your arms but me."




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.


From the Song of Songs