And Music Dawned Above Despair
4 Views of War
for Baritone and Piano (2017)
by Ron Hannah

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1. After Blenheim - Robert Southey (1774 – 1843)
2. The Unpardonable Sin - Vachel Lindsay (1879 – 1931)
3. The Painter on Silk - Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925)
4. A Secret Music - Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

Duration: about 13.5 minutes

     Here is a set of anti-war songs, the second a very graphic and bitter depiction indeed of the horrors of war. It may not be suitable for many singers' programs, but I had to write it in light of the horrors of contemporary history in which madmen bluster and approach the brink with their ghastly weapons. Despite all that however, I wanted the final effect to be one of, if not optimism, at least a feeling that some humans are capable of better behaviour.

     I find myself strongly drawn to many poets and many individual poems, and I sometimes re-use material. Such is the case in #3 in which I return yet again to the words of Amy Lowell, my favourite, at least for musical settings. Visit this link to see how many times and in how many arrangements of forces I have expressed my admiration for her work. More than that, I have set #3, The Painter on Silk before, for women's voices and orchestra (see Roses and Silk); and have previously made a choral setting of #4, A Secret Music (see Burning Seraph Eyes).

     If you wish to view the score, please send me a request (below), or visit the Canadian Music Centre. I ask only that if you decide to perform these songs, that you inform me so that I can keep my Performances page up-to-date (no-one ever does, but I keep asking :)

     These are very expressive songs, in my style of dissonant tonality, and they will require a strong soloist. They range in mood from bucolic, to savagely critical to mystical. The texts follow:     

1. After Blenheim (1798)
- Robert Southey

It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
Which he beside the rivulet
In playing there had found;
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And, with a natural sigh —
“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he,
“Who fell in the great victory.

“I find them in the garden,
For there’s many here about;
And often when I go to plough,
The ploughshare turns them out.
For many thousand men,” said he,
“Were slain in that great victory.”

“Now tell us what ’twas all about,”
Young Peterkin, he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
With wonder-waiting eyes;
“Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for.”

“It was the English,” Kaspar cried,
“Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for,
I could not well make out;
But everybody said,” quoth he,
“That ’twas a famous victory.

“My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
And new-born baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

“They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.

“Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won,
And our good Prince Eugene.”
“Why, ’twas a very wicked thing!”
Said little Wilhelmine.
“Nay… nay… my little girl,” quoth he,
“It was a famous victory.

“And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win.”
“But what good came of it at last?”
Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why that I cannot tell,” said he,
“But ’twas a famous victory.”
2. The Unpardonable Sin
- Vachel Lindsay

This is the sin against the Holy Ghost:
To speak of bloody power as right divine,
And call on God to guard each vile chief’s house,
And for such chiefs, turn men to wolves and swine:

To go forth killing in White Mercy’s name,
Making the trenches stink with spattered brains,
Tearing the nerves and arteries apart,
Sowing with flesh the unreaped golden plains.

In any church’s name, to sack fair towns,
And turn each home into a screaming sty,
To make the little children fugitive,
And have their mothers for a quick death cry,

This is the sin against the Holy Ghost:
This is the sin no purging can atone:
To send forth rapine in the name of Christ:
To set the face, and make the heart a stone.
3. The Painter on Silk
- Amy Lowell

There was a man
Who made his living
By painting roses
Upon silk.

He sat in an upper chamber
And painted,
And the noises of the street
Meant nothing to him.

When he heard bugles, and fifes, and drums,
He thought of red, and yellow, and white roses
Bursting in the sunshine,
And smiled as he worked.
He thought only of roses,
And silk.
When he could get no more silk
He stopped painting
And only thought
Of roses.

The day the conquerors
Entered the city,
The old man
Lay dying.
He heard the bugles and drums,
And wished he could paint the roses
Bursting into sound.
4. A SECRET MUSIC
- Siegfried Sassoon

I keep such music in my brain
No din this side of death can quell;
Glory exulting over pain,
And beauty garlanded in hell.

My dreaming spirit will not heed
The roar of guns that would destroy
My life that on the gloom can read
Proud surging melodies of joy.

To the world's end I went, and found
Death in his carnival of glare;
But in my torment I was crowned
And music dawned above despair.


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