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Several of the movements are constructed of short sections which repeat, with da capos (i.e. ending with the opening section repeated) and these are detailed below to help in following without a score. However, as listeners will discover, there is nothing stiff or formal about this construction; Milford’s invention flows with enviable fluency.
In the short ‘Introduction’ (dated 15 December 1928) Milford sets Stevenson’s words for soprano before launching on a sequence of seven pieces for flute and strings, each movement concerned with one aspect of the verse. The first movement ‘Thy Garden’ is a lyrical duet between flute and viola, the cellos and basses walking throughout – in the flow of the melody this is perhaps the nearest in idiom Milford came to his friend Finzi. This is followed by ‘Meat in Thy Hall’, a minuet consisting of a ten-bar introduction, followed by a ten-bar section which is repeated. The flute only plays in the trio which follows, itself consisting of two sections of eleven and twenty-three bars, each repeated and rounded by the opening minuet returning.
The third movement, ‘Thy Bin of Wine’, is more vigorous and consists of two eight-bar sections played twice, on the second playing of each the flute being more brilliant an octave higher. ‘Thy Wit’ is unexpectedly quietly lyrical. Here we have an eighteen-bar opening section which is repeated and followed by a brief varied middle section before the opening music returns.
The slow treatment of ‘Thy House and Lawns’ as an affecting Adagio certainly evokes a nocturnal vision, or perhaps one at dusk. This is actually only eleven bars long, but in this small span Milford provides the central focus of the suite, a gorgeous interlude for strings alone. It is followed by ‘Thy Living River’, another movement short on paper but big in impact, now featuring the flute accompanied by muted violins and a softly sustained D on the muted violas. Here two four-bar sections each repeat, followed by one of five bars leading, on a trill, directly into the slow jigging 6/8 of ‘Thy Nightingale’ with which the suite ends. Here we have Milford’s formal treatment at its simplest, a middle section which is repeated before the first thirteen bars of the opening bring the piece to an end. Curiously, given its title, Milford makes no attempt to evoke the nightingale’s song.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2004