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The clown's songs from 'Twelfth night', Op 65

First line:
When that I was and a little tiny boy
author of text
Twelfth Night

The only solo-song settings of Shakespeare that Stanford undertook were completed in October 1896 and published by Boosey the following year. The title of the group refers to Feste, Olivia’s jester, who is inclined as much towards melancholy as he is towards humour and satire, and it is this predisposition of sobriety and pensiveness that informs the composer’s interpretations of all three texts. O mistress mine (Act 2, Scene 3), often portrayed as capricious and whimsical (as in settings by Sullivan and Parry), is here given an alternative reading as a rueful meditation on the passing of youth. This mood is articulated musically in the oblique opening (and the interlude between verses) emphasising the supertonic, G minor, and the wistful nature of the lyrical vocal line. Only in the closing bars, with their conspicuous diminished harmonies, does Stanford give us a fleeting taste of the whimsical.

The themes of unrequited love, a lonely death and subsequent burial (with all its symbols of cypress wood and yew) form the focus of Come away, death (Act 2, Scene 4), whose sense of tragedy is conveyed by the persistence of the dotted cortège rhythm and the supertonic seventh (II7b) which interjects powerfully at cadential points. It was orchestrated in March 1898.

The final song of Shakespeare’s play, The rain it raineth every day (Act 5, Scene 1), is a stoical scherzo, vocally emulating the style of an eighteenth-century popular tune (as one might find in Eccles, Dibdin or Arne). Stanford makes deft use of unexpected modulation across the four verses where the fluctuation of D minor and its relative F major, and the supertonic inflection of G minor, heard in verses one and two, are allowed to influence the tonally fluid verse three (which begins in F, modulates to G minor before concluding on the dominant of D) and verse four (which, after shifting to the major mode, modulates quizzically to its own relative, B minor).

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2000


Stanford: Songs, Vol. 2
Songs to Shakespeare
CDA66480Archive Service
A Treasury of English Song
This album is not yet available for downloadHYP30Super-budget price sampler — Deleted


No 1: O mistress mine
Track 2 on CDA67124 [1'34]
No 2: Come away, death
Track 3 on CDA67124 [4'04]
No 3: The rain it raineth every day  When that I was and a little tiny boy
Track 4 on CDA67124 [1'26]
Track 13 on CDA66480 [1'49] Archive Service
Track 30 on HYP30 [1'26] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

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