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Five Epigrams

author of text

In Five Epigrams (1960), Maws succeeds effortlessly in accomplishing his aims when composing for amateur singers. The set was written shortly after he had finished his composition studies, and at this point in his career he was keen to write something for a choir. When he came across these pithy epigrams by Robert Burns, he felt that they ‘provided somewhat different kind of texts than usual in choral music’. In addition he was also ‘attracted by the brevity of the poems, as that would mean short musical settings, which I assumed would be more attractive to choirs, since this was the work of a young, so far, unknown composer’. The work was dedicated to Kenneth Roberton and The London Scottish Choir, who gave the premiere in 1961.

‘On a noisy polemic’ is enhanced by a choral accompaniment to the folksong-like melody. Vocal glissandi and shouted speech wittily emphasize the word ‘bitch’, and more humour occurs at the words ‘O Death, it’s my opinion’ where, to the marking Andante religioso, the phrase is set to a mocking plagal cadence. In ‘On the death of Robert Ruisseaux’ Maw pairs the voices (latterly as a stark two-part canon) to create a sombre elegy.

With its swift pace and gradual crescendo, ‘On a henpecked country squire’ gives a vivid portrayal of the husband literally nagged to death. Altos and sopranos chase each other in imitation, then basses and tenors follow suit. The ‘lady famed for her caprice’ finds her ephemeral character evoked through the word-painting of the word ‘butterfly’; and equally her want of ‘goodness’ as the second syllable of the word lands on a biting dissonance.

Clearly Burns did not like the eponymous ‘Andrew Turner’! The epigram recounts that the Devil planned to ‘mak’ a swine’, but changing his mind he ‘shaped it something like a man / And ca’d it Andrew Turner’. Maw tells the tale to a rollicking tune with tattoo-like accompaniment.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2007


Maw: One foot in Eden still, I stand & other choral works
CDA67615Archive Service


No 1: On a noisy polemic  Below thir stanes lie Jamie's banes
Track 4 on CDA67615 [1'31] Archive Service
No 2: On the death of Robert Ruisseaux  Now Robin likes in his last lair
Track 5 on CDA67615 [1'12] Archive Service
No 3: On a henpecked country squire  As father Adam first was fool'd
Track 6 on CDA67615 [0'35] Archive Service
No 4: On a lady famed for her caprice  Here lies, now a prey to insulting neglect
Track 7 on CDA67615 [1'55] Archive Service
No 5: Andrew Turner  In seventeen hunder' and forty nine
Track 8 on CDA67615 [1'25] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDA67615 track 6

On a henpecked country squire
Recording date
14 March 2000
Recording venue
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Nick Flower
Recording engineer
Mike Skeet
Hyperion usage
  1. Maw: One foot in Eden still, I stand & other choral works (CDA67615)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: January 2007
    Deletion date: October 2021
    Archive Service
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