Three Tennyson Songs (2011)

For Bass-Baritone and Piano   10 minutes

A 10-minute cycle of three poems by Tennyson, this work was composed for Canadian baritone Philippe Sly in 2011.

I. O Swallow, Swallow

O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South,
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee.

O tell her, Swallow, thou that kNowest each,
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South,
And dark and true and tender is the North.

O Swallow, Swallow, if I could follow, and light
Upon her lattice, I would pipe and trill,
And cheep and twitter twenty million loves.

O were I thou that she might take me in,
And lay me on her bosom, and her heart
Would rock the snowy cradle till I died.

Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love,
Delaying as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green?

O tell her, Swallow, that thy brood is flown:
Say to her, I do but wanton in the South,
But in the North long since my nest is made.

O tell her, brief is life but love is long,
And brief the sun of summer in the North,
And brief the moon of beauty in the South.

O Swallow, flying from the golden woods,
Fly to her, and pipe and woo her, and make her mine,
And tell her, tell her, that I follow thee.

II. Dark House

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street.
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand.

A hand that can be clasped no more –
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.

III. The Sailor-Boy

He rose at dawn and fired with hope,
Shot o’er the seething harbor-bar,
And reach’d the ship and caught the rope,
And whistled to the morning star.

And while he whistled long and loud
He heard a fierce mermaiden cry,
‘O boy, tho’ thou are young and proud,
I see the place where thou wilt lie.

‘The sands and yeasty surges mix
In caves about the dreary bay,
And on thy ribs the limpet sticks,
And in thy heart the scrawl shall play.’

‘Fool,’ he answer’d , ‘death is sure
To those that stay and those that roam,
But I will nevermore endure
To sit with empty hands at home.

‘My mother clings about my neck,
My sisters crying, :”Stay for shame;”
My father raves of death and wreck,-
They are all to blame, they are all to blame.

‘God help me! save I take my part
Of danger on the roaring sea,
A devil rises in my heart,
Far worse than any death to me.’

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Text: Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Dedicated to Philippe Sly

First performance: 23rd April 2011, Philippe Sly (bass-baritone) and Esther Gonthier (piano), McGill University, Montreal, Quebec.