For soprano, tenor, bass and lute
Duration c. 25’
Text: Petrarch, translated by J. M. Synge
1-9 commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and performed there by Red Byrd November 27th 2003
Third Book of Madrigals (published ED 12787)
1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all the things of the earth (STB and lute)
2. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God (STB and lute)
3. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (STB and lute)
4. Laura is ever present to him (STB and lute)
5. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty (STB and lute)
6. He recalls his visions of her (STB and lute)
7. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows (STB and lute)
8. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more (STB and lute)
9. He considers the reasons for his verses (STB and lute)
10. He is jealous of the heaven’s and the earth (STB and lute)
11. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch’s sorrow (STB and lute)
12. He understands the great cruelty of death (Tenor Solo)
13. The sight of Laura’s house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost. (STB and lute)
14. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her. (STB and lute)
15. Only he who mourns her and Heaven that possesses her knew her while she lived (STB and lute)
16. Petrarch is unable to contain his grief (STB and lute)
17. Laura waits for him in heaven (STB and lute)
Third Book of Madrigals (2003)
For soprano, tenor, bass and lute
Like the Second Book of Madrigals, the Third Book sets sonnets by Petrarch,
but this time not in the original 14th century Italian but in Irish prose
translations by J. M. Synge. I came across Synge’s Petrarch poems in the
University of Victoria library, part of a remarkable Synge collection. They
were edited by one of Canada’s greatest poets Robin Skelton, who died in
1997 and to whose memory these madrigals are dedicated.
Although Synge first became interested in Petrarch when he visited Italy in
1896 it was not until early 1907, after he had met the American poetess
Agnes Tobin and read her translations, that he began to work on his own
versions. Part of his intention was to translate love poetry into English
but they also served as an exercise in writing prose poetry of the kind he
could use in his last play “Deirdre of the Sorrows” which he wrote in
parallel with the Petrarch translations. Both the play and the translations
were incomplete at the time of his death in March 1909.
Petrarch’s sonnets are traditionally divided into two collections: “in vita
di Madonna Laura” and “in morte di Madonna Laura” and Synge’s settings are
from the second group. During the time that he was writing them he became
aware that he did not have long to live and the opening lines of the first
poem show this: “Life is flying from me, not stopping an hourS”
There are seventeen madrigals altogether – nine have been commissioned by
the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music – and are written for Red
Byrd: soprano, tenor, bass and lute. Ten are for the full complement of
voices, three are duets for soprano and tenor, two are duets for tenor and
bass and two are for tenor solo. Three of the three-part madrigals (numbers
5, 10 and 15) are unaccompanied and there is a lute prologue and epilogue.
I have worked with all three singers in various contexts over the years,
indeed Anna Maria Friman is a member of my own ensemble and I regularly
write unaccompanied solo Lauda for her. Tenor John Potter has been involved
with all three books of madrigals: with the Hilliard Ensemble for book one,
with the Trio Mediaeval Sextet and Yorvox for book two, and here with Red
Byrd for book three. He has also been a constant source of inspired
scholarship and friendly, though practical, advice throughout the time that
I have been writing madrigals.
Setting Synge’s prose poetry was very different from setting Petrarch’s
originals – in many ways harder – but always immensely pleasurable,
rewarding and challenging. Coincidentally one sonnet which I set in the
Second Book of Madrigals also appears in the Synge collection and therefore
in the Third Book. Curiously, this is the penultimate madrigal in each book.
Only eight translations from Petrarch appeared in the edition of Synge’s
Poems and Translations published two weeks after his death and each was
given a title in imitation of Petrarch. When four more were added in the
Collected Works in 1910 more were included and four of these had titles in a
different hand than Synge’s. Robin Skelton added titles to five more in his
1961 edition of Synge’s translations. The ones performed here are:
1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all things of the earth (tutti)
2. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God (soprano/ tenor)
3. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (tenor)
4. Laura is ever present to him (tutti)
5. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty (tutti, unaccompanied)
6. He recalls his visions of her (tutti)
7. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows (soprano/ tenor)
8. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more (tutti)
9. He considers the reasons for his verses (tutti)
Text of Third Book of Madrigals
1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all the things of the earth
Life is flying from me, not stopping an hour, and Death is making great strides following my track. The days about me and the days passed over me, are bringing me desolation, and the days to come will be the same surely.
All things that I am bearing in mind, and all things I am dread of, are keeping me in troubles, in this way one time, in that way another time, so that if I wasn’t taking pity on my own self it’s long ago I’d have given up my life.
If my dark heart has any sweet thing it is turned away from me, and then farther off I see the great winds where I must be sailing. I see my good luck far away in the harbour, but my steersman is tired out, and the masts and the ropes on them are broken, and the beautiful lights where I would be always looking are quenched.
2. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God
What is it you’re thinking, lonesome heart? For what is it you’re turning back ever and always to times that are gone away from you? For what is it you’re throwing sticks on the fire where it is your own self that is burning?
The little looks and sweet words you’ve taken one by one and written down among your songs, are gone up into the Heavens, and it’s late, you know well, to go seeking them on the face of the earth.
Let you not be giving new life every day to your own destruction, and following a fool’s thoughts for ever. Let you seek Heaven when there is nothing left pleasing on the earth, and it a poor thing if a great beauty, the like of her, would be destroying your peace and she living or dead.
3. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (tenor solo)
In the years of her age the most beautiful and the most flowery – the time Love has his mastery – Laura, who was my life, has gone away leaving the earth stripped and desolate. She has gone up into the Heavens, living and beautiful and naked, and from that place she is keeping her lordship and her reign upon me, and I crying out: Ohone, when will I see that day breaking that will be my first day with herself in Paradise?
My thoughts are going after her, and it is that way my soul would follow her, lightly, and airily, and happily, and I would be rid of all my great troubles. But what is delaying me is the proper thing to lose me utterly, to make me a greater weight on my own self.
Oh, what a sweet death I might have died this day three years to-day!
4. Laura is ever present to him
If the birds are making lamentation, or the green banks are moved by a little wind of summer, or you can hear the waters making a stir by the shores that are green and flowery.
That’s where I do be stretched out thinking of love, writing my songs, and herself that Heaven shows me though hidden in the earth I set my eyes on, and hear the way that she feels my sighs and makes an answer to me.
‘Alas,’ I hear her say, ‘why are you using yourself up before the time is come, and pouring out a stream of tears so sad and doleful?
‘You’d do right to be glad rather, for in dying I won days that have no ending, and when you saw me shutting up my eyes I was opening them on the light that is eternal.’
5. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty
I was never anyplace where I saw so clearly one I do be wishing to see when I do not see, never in a place where I had the like of this freedom in myself, and where the light of love making was strong in the sky. I never saw any valley with so many spots in it where a man is quiet and peaceful, and I wouldn’t think that Love himself in Cyprus had a nest so nice and curious. The waters are holding their discourse on love, and the wind with them and the branches, and fish, and the flowers and the grass, the lot of them are giving hints to me that I should love forever.
But yourself are calling to me out of Heaven to pray me by the memory of the bitter death that took you from me that I should put small store on the world or the tricks that are in it.
6. He recalls his visions of her
How many times, running away from all people and from myself if I was able, I go out to my little nook, with my two eyes crying tears on my breast and on the grass under me, and breaking the air with the great sighs I do be giving.
How many times, and I heavy with sorrow, I have stretched out in shady places and woods, seeking always in my thoughts for herself that death has taken from me, and calling out to her one time and again that she might come. Then in some form of a high goddess I see her rising up out of the clearest pool of the Sorga, my sweet river, and putting herself to sit upon the bank.
Or other days I have seen her on the fresh grass and she picking flowers like a living lady, yet showing me in her look she has a pity for myself.
7. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows
Sweet spirit you do be coming down so often to put a sweetness on my sad night-time with a look from those eyes death has not quenched, but made more deep and beautiful.
How much it is a joy to me that you throw a light on my dark days, so that I am beginning to find your beauty in the places where I did see you often.
Where I did go long years, and I singing of yourself, I go now, making lamentations for my own sharp sorrows.
It is when I have great sorrow only that I find rest, for it is then when I turn round I see and know you, by your walk and your voice, and your face, and the cloak round you.
8. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more
The eyes that I would be talking of so warmly, and the arms, and the hands, and the feet, and the face, that are after calling me away from myself and making me a lonesome man among all people.
The hair that was of shining gold, and brightness of the smile that was the like of an angel’s surely, and was making a paradise of the earth, are turned to a little dust that knows nothing at all.
And yet I myself am living; it is for this I am making a complaint, to be left without the light I had such a great love for, in good fortune and bad, and this will be the end of my songs of love, for the vein where I had cleverness is dried up, and everything I have is turned to complaint only.
9. He considers the reasons for his verses
If I had thought that the voice of my grief would have a value I would have made a greater number surely of my first sorrow and in a finer manner: but she who made me speak them out and who stood in the summit of my thoughts is dead at this time, and I am not able to make these rough verses sweet or clear.
And in surety those times all I was wishing was to ease my sad heart in any way I was able and not to gain an honour for myself, and it was weep I was seeking and not the honour men might win of it, and now it is the one pleasure I am seeking that she would call to me and I silent and tired out.
10. He is jealous of the Heavens and the Earth
What a grudge I am bearing the earth that has its arms about her, and is holding that face away from me, where I was finding peace from great sadness.
What a grudge I am bearing the Heavens that are after taking her, and shutting her in with greediness, the Heavens that do push their bolt against so many.
What a grudge I am bearing the blessed saints that have got her sweet company, that I am always seeking; and what a grudge I am bearing against Death, that is standing in her two eyes and will not call me with a word.
11. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch’s sorrow
The south wind is coming back, bringing the fine season, and the flowers, and the grass, her sweet family, along with her. The swallow and the nightingale are making a stir, and the spring is turning white and red in every place.
There is a cheerful look on the meadows, and peace in the sky, and the sun is well pleased, I’m thinking, looking downward, and the air and the waters and the earth herself are full of love, and every beast is turning back looking for its mate.
And what a coming to me is great sighing and trouble, which herself is drawing out of my deep heart, herself that has taken the key of it up to Heaven.
And it is this way I am, that the singing birds, and the flowers of the earth, and the sweet ladies, with the grace and comeliness, are the like of a desert to me, and wild beasts astray in it.
12. He understands the great cruelty of Death (tenor solo)
My flowery and green age was passing away, and I feeling a chill in the fires had been wasting my heart, for I was drawing near the hillside that is above the grave.
Then my sweet enemy was making a start, little by little, to give over her great wariness, the way she was wringing a sweet thing out of my sharp sorrow. The time was coming when Love and Decency can keep company, and lovers may sit together and say out all things are in their hearts. But Death had his grudge against me, and he got up in the way, like an armed robber, with a pike in his hand.
13. The sight of Laura’s house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost (tenor solo)
Is this nest in which my Phoenix put on her feathers of gold and purple, my Phoenix that did hold me under her wing and she drawing out sweet words and sighs from me? Oh, root of my sweet misery, where is that beautiful face, where light would be shining out, the face that did keep my heart like a flame burning? She was without a match upon the earth, I hear them say, and now she is happy in the Heavens.
And she has left me after her dejected and lonesome, turning back all times to the place I do be making much of for her sake only, and I seeing the night on the little hills where she took her last flight up into the Heavens, and where one time her eyes would make sunshine and it night itself.
14. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her (tenor solo)
Let you go down, sorrowful rhymes, to the hard rock is covering my dear treasure, and then let you call out till herself that is in the heavens will make answer, though her dead body is lying in a shady place.
Let you say to her that it is tired out I am with being alive, with steering in bad seas, but I am going after her step by step, gathering up what she let fall behind her.
It is of her only I do be thinking, and she living and dead, and now I have made her with my songs so that the whole world may know her, and give her the love that is her due.
May it please her to be ready for my own passage that is getting near: may she be there to meet me, herself in the Heavens, that she may call me, and draw me after her.
15. Only he who mourns her and Heaven that possesses her knew her while she lived
Ah, Death, it is you that have left the world cold and shady, with no sun over it. It’s you have left Love without eyes or arms to him, you’ve left liveliness stripped, and beauty without a shape to her, and all courtesy in chains, and honesty thrown down into a hole. I am making lamentation alone, though it isn’t myself only has a cause to be crying out; since you, Death, have crushed the first seed of goodness in the whole world, and with it gone what place will we find a second?
The air and the earth and the seas would have a good right to be crying out – and they pitying the race of men that is left without herself, like a meadow without flowers, or a ring robbed of jewellery.
The world didn’t know her the time she was in it, but I myself knew her – and I left now to be weeping in this place; and the Heavens knew her, the Heavens that are giving an ear this day to my crying out.
16. Petrarch is unable to contain his grief
There was one time maybe when it was a sweet thing to love – though I would be hard set to say when it was – but now it is a bitter thing and there is nothing bitterer. The man who is teaching a truth should know it better than any other, and that is the way I am with my great sorrow.
Herself that was the honour of our age; [and] now is in the heavens where all cherish her, made my [times of ease] in her days short and rare, and now she has taken all rest from me.
Cruel Death has taken every good thing from me, and from this out no good luck could make up for the loss of that beautiful spirit that is set free.
I used to be weeping and making songs, and I don’t know at this day what way I’d turn a verse, but day and night the sorrow that is banked up in my heart, breaks out on my tongue and through my eyes.
17. Laura waits for him in heaven
The first day she passed up and down through the Heavens, gentle and simple were left standing, and they in great wonder, saying one to the other:
‘What new light is that? What new beauty at all? The like of herself hasn’t risen up these long years from the common world.’
And herself, well pleased with the Heavens, was going forward, matching herself with the most perfect that were before her, yet one time, and another, waiting a little, and turning her head back to see if myself was coming after her. It’s for that I’m lifting up all my thoughts and will into the Heavens, because I do hear her praying that I should be making haste forever.
(Text by Petrarch, translated by J. M. Synge)