Roses and Silk
for women's voices and orchestra (2011, rev. 2019)
by Ron Hannah


Duration: about 5 minutes

     Upon my return to Canada after years of wandering the world, I did something I had been missing during all that time: I joined a choir, specifically the Chilliwack Symphony Chorus, since that town is where I found myself at the time of writing. Choral singing is a true joy, and when an orchestra is present also, I find it difficult to keep singing - I just want to put down my music and listen! Writing for such forces has to be one of the supreme joys for a composer!


    But to my knowledge, and disappointment, the group for whom I wrote "Roses and Silk" has not performed it. It is conducted by an energetic and talented lady named Paula DeWit, and my piece is dedicated to her and to a sub-group of the chorus, called the Show Choir. This all-female group does lighter pieces and show tunes, often accompanied by simple choreography that can be very effective. I have enjoyed their presentations, and I set out to write a crowd-pleaser for them, or for the entire soprano and alto sections if the Show Choir ceased to be. I know that this piece works, it's gorgeous in fact, and you can hear a fairly effective computer-generated version of the score by clicking in the box.

     Much of the secret of its success is due to plagiarism. Thoughout, I have employed the harmonic progressions and melodic constructs found in a tiny gem of a keyboard work entitled "Solfeggietto", by C.P.E. Bach, the second son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach. Pianists will know this clever bonbon (you can hear it on YouTube by clicking here), and I play it often with great pleasure. It is not only attractive in its own right, it could be used alone as a study piece for Classical harmony, so complete and perfect is it. Putting it together with words by Amy Lowell, my favourite poet, adds up to a work I am proud of.

     My orchestration is small: strings, flute (doubling piccolo), horn, bass clarinet (or optional bassoon), and strings. This odd combination came about as follows: 1) I wanted to keep the forces small in order to increase the chance of performances, 2) in the orchestra I met a superb flautist, 3) whose wife is a fine horn player, and 4) I used to play the bass clarinet myself, in the Symphonic Wind Ensemble at the University of Alberta. It is my favourite instrument, and I always try to feature it in my orchestral writings. The poem is as follows:

The Painter on Silk

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.

     Amy Lowell's poetry is among the most evocative I have ever found. I have set, and re-set, her poems many times over the years. Please visit this link for a listing of all of my works on Miss Lowell's poetry; songs for solo voice and for choir, with chamber ensemble accompaniment, even with orchestral accompaniment. She is MY poet, and I have even re-used Roses and Silk in my cycle for baritone and piano, called "And Music Dawned Above Despair". Click the link for more information.

     The full score can be obtained by clicking above, and parts are available by sending me an email or through the Canadian Music Center. My only restriction is that if you perform this piece, that you inform me so that I can keep this website up-to-date.