Rossetti Requiem

Settings of texts by Christina Rossetti

for Soloists (SATB), Choir (SATB) and Orchestra (2 fl, 2 bsn, 2 hn, perc & strings)          2010            55’

Mankind’s spiritual journey through life and our attitude to death provide the themes of Christina Rossetti’s best work: the relationships between living and loving on the one hand, and grieving and memory on the other. The first poem in this cycle confronts the physical reality of death and tauntingly asks how far memory will reach beyond the grave. After musing on the transience of worldly things (no.2), the poet embarks on a spiritual quest (no.3). Love and youth are recalled (no.4) before a reflection that the ultimate act of love is to relinquish it (no.5). Even spring-life is destined to die (no.6), yet grief is hard to bear and memories are real (no.7). All we can do is search (no.8) and our journey will be its own reward (no.9).

first performance November 2010, Jacqueline Pischorn (soprano), Grace Wain (mezzo-soprano), Paul Robinson (tenor), Ian Caddy (bass)

Newbury Chamber Choir & Orchestra, conducted by the composer

1 Mezzo-Soprano

When I am dead, my dearest,

 Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

 Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me

 With showers and dewdrops wet:

And if thou wilt, remember,

 And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,

 I shall not fear the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

 Sing on as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight

 That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember,

 And haply may forget.

2 Chorus

Vanity of vanities, the Preacher saith,

 All things are vanity. The eye and ear

 Cannot be filled with what they see and hear.

Like early dew, or like the sudden breath

Of wind, or like the grass that withereth,

 Is man, tossed to and fro by hope and fear:

 So little joy hath he, so little cheer,

Till all things end in the long dust of death.

Today is still the same as yesterday,

 Tomorrow also even as one of them;

  And there is nothing new under the sun:

 Until the ancient race of Time be run,

 The old thorns shall grow out of the old stem,

And morning shall be cold and twilight grey.

3 Tenor

A voice said, ‘Follow, follow’: and I rose

 And followed far into the dreamy night

 Turning my back upon the pleasant light.

It led me where the bluest water flows,

And would not let me drink: where the corn grows

 I dared not pause, but went uncheered by sight

 Or touch: until at length in evil plight

It left me, wearied out with many woes.

Some time I sat as one bereft of sense:

 But soon another voice from very far

  Called, ‘Follow, follow’: and I rose again.

 Now on my night has dawned a blessed star:

  Kind steady hands my sinking steps sustain,

And will not leave me till I shall go hence.

4  Chorus

When my love came home to me,

 Pleasant summer bringing,

Every tree was out in leaf, 

 Every bird was singing.

My heart is like a singing bird

 Whose nest is in a watered shoot:

My heart is like an apple-tree

Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

 That paddles in a halcyon sea;

My heart is gladder than all these

 Because my love is come to me.

There I met her in the lane 

 By those waters gleamy,

Met her toward the fall of day,

 Warm and dear and dreamy.

Did I loiter in the lane?

 None was there to see me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;

 Hang it with vair and purple dyes;

Carve it in doves and pomegranates,

And peacocks with a hundred eyes;

Work it in gold and silver grapes;

 In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;

Because the birthday of my life

 Is come; my love is come to me.

Only roses in the hedge,

 Lilies on the river,

Saw our greeting fast and fond,

Counted gift and giver,

Saw me take her to my home,

 Take her home for ever.

5 Soprano

Remember me when I am gone away,

 Gone far away into the silent land;

 When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

 You tell me of our future what you planned:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

 And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

 For if the darkness and corruption leave

 A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

 Than that you should remember and be sad.

6  Chorus

Frost-locked all the winter,

Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,

What shall make their sap ascend

That they may put forth shoots?

Tips of tender green,

Leaf, or blade, or sheath;

Telling of the hidden life

That breaks forth underneath,

Life nursed in its grave by Death.

Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,

Drips the soaking rain,

By fits looks down the waking sun:

Young grass springs on the plain;

Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;

Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,

Swollen with sap put forth their shoots;

Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;

Birds sing and pair again.

There is no time like Spring,

When life’s alive in everything,

Before new nestlings sing,

Before cleft swallows speed their journey back

Along the trackless track - 

God guides their wing,

He spreads their table that they nothing lack, -

Before the daisy grows a common flower,

Before the sun has power

To scorch the world up in his noontide hour.

There is no time like Spring,

Like Spring that passes by;

There is no life like Spring-life born to die,

Piercing the sod,

Clothing the uncouth clod,

Hatched in the nest,

Fledged on the windy bough,

Strong on the wing:

There is no time like Spring that passes by,

Now newly born, and now

Hastening to die.

7 Bass

Come to me in the silence of the night;

 Come in the speaking silence of a dream;

Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright 

 As sunlight on a stream;

  Come back in tears,

O memory, hope, love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,

 Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,

Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;

 Where thirsting longing eyes

  Watch the slow door

That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live

 My very life again though cold in death:

Come back to me in dreams, that I may give

 Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:

  Speak low, lean low,

As long ago, my love, how long ago.

Orchestral interlude

8  Chorus

Somewhere or other there must surely be

The face not seen, the voice not heard,

The heart that not yet - never yet - ah me!

 Made answer to my word.

Somewhere or other, may be near or far;

 Past land and sea, clean out of sight;

Beyond the wandering moon, beyond the star

 That tracks her night by night.

Somewhere or other, may be far or near;

 With just a wall, a hedge, between:

With just the last leaves of the dying year

 Fallen on a turf grown green.

9  Quartet and chorus

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?

 Yes, to the very end.

Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?

 From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting place?

 A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.

May not the darkness hide it from my face?

 You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?

 Those who have gone before.

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?

 They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

 Of labour you shall find the sum.

Will there be beds for me and all who seek?

 Yea, beds for all who come