For Tenor, Flute, Oboe and String Quartet
Not everyone kNows what he shall sing at The End,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.
When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not everyone knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky
Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in Flight,
Not everyone knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.
When I heard Mark Strand read his poem ‘The End’ to a small gathering of artists in Italy a few years ago, I was moved – and also felt immediately that it was a poem that could be sung. I hoped that one day I might have the chance to set it to music. I did not know exactly what the music would sound like, but I imagined a solo voice with several instruments.
The Britten Sinfonia gave me the opportunity to make this wish come true, by inviting me to write something for Mark Padmore to sing, with instrumentation to match Warlock’s The Curlew. String quartet with two solo wind instruments seemed the perfect combination to suggest the gentle rocking motion of the ship slipping into darkness, and perhaps hear birds suspended in flight.
I am very grateful to Mark Strand for letting me set his marvellous poem, and to all the contributors to the Tenner for a Tenor scheme which helped to fund this commission.
Text: Mark Strand
Commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia and the Wigmore Hall for the 'At Lunch' series
First performance: 27th April 2012, Mark Padmore (tenor), Britten Sinfonia, Wigmore Hall, London.