Nine Irish Madrigals

Description: 

nos. 1, 8 and 9 first perf. Anna Maria Friman, John Potter, GB Ensemble
Great Hall Dartington, Devon April 26
Complete performance Glenn Gould Studio, CBC Toronto
Duration 30’
March 6th 2007

Nine Irish Madrigals (Adapted from 3rd book of Madrigals)

(for soprano, tenor, viola, bass clarinet and double  bass)

Hire Only

1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all the things of the earth

2. Laura is ever present to him

3. He recalls his visions of her

4. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more

5. He considers the reasons for his verses

6. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch's sorrow

7. The sight of Laura's house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost.

8. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her (tenor solo)

9. Only he who mourns her and Heaven that possesses her knew her while she lived (tenor solo)

Text of Nine Irish Madrigals

1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all the things of the earth

2. Laura is ever present to him 

3. He recalls his visions of her

4. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more

5. He considers the reasons for his verses

6. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch's sorrow

7. The sight of Laura's house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost

8. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her

9. Only he who mourns her and heaven that possesses her knew her while she lived

 

Like the Eight Irish Madrigals these Nine Irish Madrigals, also for soprano and tenor, but with a different accompaniment, come from my Third Book of Madrigals - which is for three voices and lute.

These all set sonnets by Petrarch in the remarkable Irish prose translations by John Millington 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 hour".

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.

I am grateful to Robin Skelton's family for allowing me to include these titles.

(Gavin Bryars)

 

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. 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.'

  

3. 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.

 

4. 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.

 

5. 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.

 

6. 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.

 

7. The sight of Laura's house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost

Os 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.

 

8. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her

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.

 

9. 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.