‘When the lad for longing sighs’ is a further example of how folksong was totally absorbed into Butterworth’s voice, for it could easily be taken as a traditional tune. The second verse has an accompaniment in thirds, a Butterworth characteristic, and the final cadence is unresolved as if posing a question. ‘On the idle hill of summer’ is the most ambitious of the songs in this group, with the syncopated added-sixth chords, heightened by the occasional rumble of an A pedal point, suggestive of both the languid heat of a summer’s day, as well as the sound of distant drumming. For the final verse the music is urgent and animated with triplets evoking the bugles of the text and rising to the climax of the song at ‘Woman bore me, I will rise’. In its simplicity of gesture, its nostalgia and melancholy, ‘With rue my heart is laden’ seems to sum up the mood of Butterworth’s art. Its opening phrase is quoted at end of the Shropshire Lad rhapsody and at the very end there is a final allusion to the opening of ‘Loveliest of trees’, as if the cycles of life, love and death have come full circle and are poised to begin again.
from notes by Andrew Burn © 2003
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