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Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind, That from the nunnery Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase, The first foe in the field; And with a stronger faith embrace A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such As you too shall adore; I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not honour more.
Richard Lovelace (1618-1657/8)
It was not until 1895 that Set III of the English Lyrics was published. Its dedicatee, Harry Plunket Greene, was the most sought-after baritone in Britain, having made his name in 1892 with the role of Job in Parry’s hugely successful oratorio (recorded on Hyperion CDA67025). A few years later he was also to become Parry’s son-in-law, marrying Gwendolen, the composer’s younger daughter. Set III was the first collection of songs in which lyrics by recognized masters were mixed with poetry by Parry’s immediate contemporaries. The two poems by Richard Lovelace appear to have been written as a result of incarceration during the English Civil War – To Althea in 1642 after he was thrown into the Gatehouse prison, and To Lucasta, on going to the wars in 1648, after being jailed as a prominent Cavalier by the Parliamentarians. To Lucasta is all about the greater imperative of honour in the face of war. The sentiment elicited a sturdy response from Parry in which his distinctive use of diatonic appoggiaturas and robust suspensions (redolent of Blest Pair of Sirens) are conspicuous.
If thou would’st ease thine heart Of love and all its smart, Then sleep, dear, sleep; And not a sorrow Hang any tear on thine eyelashes; Lie still and deep; Sad soul, until the seawave washes The rim of the sun tomorrow, In eastern sky.
But would’st thou cure thine heart Of love and all its smart, Then die, dear, die; ’Tis deeper, sweeter, Than on a rose bank to lie dreaming With tranced eye; And then alone, amid the beaming Of Love’s stars, thou’lt greet her In eastern sky.
Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)
Thomas Lovell Beddoes’ play Death’s Jest Book (published 1850), and more specifically the ‘Dirge’ from Act II Scene 1, sung over the dead body of Wolfram, was the source of If thou would’st ease thine heart. This is a fine example of one of Parry’s numerous modified strophic designs where both verses share some of the same material, yet an appreciable proportion of the variegational process is dictated by the changing sentiment of the lyric. The text recommends sleep as a comfort to the suffering of love, but only death is the true remedy. For such an anguished scene Parry makes much play on the contrast of poignant appoggiaturas in the piano with a more languorous melody in the voice.
When Love with unconfined wings Hovers within my gates; And my divine Althea brings To whisper at the grates: When I lie tangled in her hair, Or fettered to her eye; The gods, that wanton in the air, Know no such liberty.
When flowing cups run swiftly round With no allaying Thames, Our careless heads with roses crowned, Our hearts with loyal flames; When thirsty grief in wine we steep, And healths and draughts go free, Fishes, that tipple in the deep, Know no such liberty.
[When (like committed linnets) I With shriller throat shall sing The sweetness, mercy, majesty, And glories of my king; When I shall voice aloud how good He is, how great should be, Enlarged winds, that curl the flood, Know no such liberty.]
Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage; If I have freedom in my love, And in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above, Enjoy such liberty.
Richard Lovelace (1618-1657/8)
Even more resolute than To Lucasta is To Althea, where Parry sets three (of the four) verses of Lovelace’s lyric in ABA form. This structural decision enabled the last verse, with its familiar words ‘Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage’ (marked, somewhat characteristically, meno mosso and largamente), to have as much musical and literary impact as possible. This is also very much enhanced by the distinctive preludial material that punctuates the verses.
Why so pale and wan, fond lover? Prithee, why so pale? Will, when looking well can’t move her, Looking ill prevail? Prithee, why so pale?
Why so dull and mute, young sinner? Prithee why so mute? Will, when speaking well can’t win her, Saying nothing do’t? Prithee, why so mute?
Quit, quit for shame, this will not move, This cannot take her; If of herself she will not love, Nothing can make her; The devil take her.
Sir John Suckling (1609-1642)
Why so pale and wan? (which, perhaps significantly, appears almost immediately after To Althea in Palgrave’s anthology) underwent at least two other versions before Parry settled on this lively interpretation. Taken from Act IV Scene 1 of Aglaura (1638), a play by the Cavalier poet Sir John Suckling, the text is sung by the character Orsames who describes the song as ‘A little foolish counsel, madam, I gave a friend of mine four or five years ago, when he was falling into consumption.’
I had a dream last night Dream of a friend that is dead He came with dawn’s first light And stood beside my bed: And as he there did stand, With gesture fine and fair, He passed a wan white hand Over my tumbled hair, Saying: ‘No friendship dieth With death of any day, No true friendship lieth Cold with lifeless clay.
Though our boyhood’s playtime, Be gone with summer’s breath, No friendship fades with Maytime No friendship dies with death.’ Then answer had I made But that the rapture deep Did hold me, half afraid To mar that rose of sleep So with closed eyes I lay, Lord of the vision fair; And when ’twas perfect day Only the day was there.
Julian Russell Sturgis (1848-1904)
Through the Ivory Gate was almost certainly written as a result of the appearance of Julian Sturgis’s A Book of Song in 1894, a year before Set III was published. It is without doubt one of Parry’s most original creations for, in essence, it is more of a miniature scena rather than a song. From the narrative of Sturgis’s poem, which recounts in a dream an encounter with a dead friend, Parry constructs a dialogue between voice and piano. The style is part declamatory, part arioso where the piano often provides the thematic continuity as if it were an orchestra manqué. Particularly fine is the material that follows the piano’s impassioned climax (‘Then answer had I made’) where the sense of tonal control, the tangential restatement of the opening idea (‘So with closed eyes I lay’) and the wistful final gesture (‘Only the day was there’) are handled in masterly fashion.