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The substantial introduction opens with the cor anglais giving out the cry of the curlew, taken over by the viola. This is followed by the rocking theme on the strings also used in the Serenade. The flute then has the peewit’s call, with its many repeated notes. After a brief climax the rocking theme returns, then a cello solo leads into the first song. This passionate outburst is succeeded by a short interlude based on the introductory material. The second song is self-contained; it appeared in both versions of The Curlew, and was probably written about 1916. After the next interlude, a recitative for cor anglais and some development of the rocking theme, comes the new song, a setting of Yeats’s The withering of the boughs, with three strongly contrasted verses, each ending with the words which could be considered the core of the cycle: ‘The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams’.
The final interlude is dominated by chords built up from piles of fourths, and more flute calls. This leads into the last song, virtually unaccompanied, until the viola ends the work with a modified inversion of the cor anglais opening phrase, subsiding onto an empty, hopeless, bare fifth with the cello.
from notes by Michael Pilkington © 1997