No 1: Fantastic in appearance
No 2: A slumber vast and black
No 3: Pastoral 'The sky above the roof'
No 4: Let's dance the gig
More enigmatic and satirical, however, is ‘Let’s dance the jig’, which, in its stoical acceptance of lost love, seems to combine a delicate French harmonic palette with a more earnest German scheme of developing variation. Of all the four songs it is ‘A slumber vast and black’ (‘Un grand sommeil noir’) that is most redolent of the progressive post-Wagnerian language he would develop in his other songs (notably his settings of Heine and von Lilienson) and his later orchestral works. Set in B major, that most Tristanesque of keys, the song embarks with a sequence of solemn chromatic progressions scored for divided cellos, cor anglais, and horns which evoke that passionate, yet despairing air of the last act of Tristan und Isolde. The harmonic control here and throughout the song demonstrates just how far Coles had developed from the more immature pages of From the Scottish Highlands of 1906/7. Indeed, the massive architectural climax, marked by tremolando strings and the positively Mahlerian inner voice of horns in their lowest register, reveals a composer who was already in possession of an enviable technique.
Coles set these four Verlaine poems in loose translations which, though not acknowledged by the composer in the surviving manuscripts, were taken from Poems by Verlaine, selected and translated, with an introduction, by Ashmore Wingate, published in London and Newcastle in 1904 by the Walter Scott Publishing Company. These translations – some of which had been set by a fellow Scot, John Blackwood McEwen, in 1905 – were some of the first English translations of Verlaine to be available. The original French poems are here printed on the right, the free English translations on the left.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2002