• Robert Walker
  • The Sun Used to Shine (1983)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • hpstr
  • tenor
  • 15 min
  • Robert Walker
  • Edward Thomas
  • English

Programme Note

Robert Walker: The Sun Used to Shine

Writing now about a piece I composed in 1983 is like recalling an old love-affair: I can be more objective, may not like now what I liked then, but, at the same time, have forgotten most of what I did or what I thought. The poems of Edward Thomas have always held a special appeal to me. I have set others in the past; the first of this cycle – The Unknown Bird – I first thought about fifteen years ago. These four poems, The Unknown Bird, Tall Nettles, Rain and The Sun Used To Shine – deal with a time passed. Moreover a time that cannot be bettered or replaced; "The sun used to shine”. I do remember a conscious effort to summon up a nostalgia in the music. I was after the sort of music the Boyd Neel Orchestra recorded on 10” discs costing 10’6. My current and second opinion is that I achieved this too well. The music is so like sub-fusc. Finzi or John Ireland-with-knobs-on, the listener would be forgiven for confusing it with the real thing; like those terrible "Living Museums”. I remember, too, the strong images of Paul Nash’s paintings with me during the work’s gestation; the muted browns and greens, the broken trees. That image is still with me when I now look at the score. Something there, at least, which is consistent in my thinking.

Looking back, I now see a secondary element of nostalgia. Most of the work was scored on a supposedly relaxing holiday in Perugia. But Lake Trasemino had typhus and I was beset by two girls who constantly burst into tears and told me all their troubles as I hunched over the manuscript. I longed for home and my own tall nettles, my own rusty harrow, my own "three lovely notes, too soft to be heard if others sang”; even the rain – "nothing but the wild rain”. Number Three – Rain – is the best of the four, I now think, even though the middle section is a crib from the second act of Peter Grimes mated with the finale of Rosenkavalier.

The strangest bit comes at the end of No. 4 – The Sun Used to Shine – from which the whole cycle takes its name. I remember consciously pinching the idea from the end of Schumann’s Dichterliebe – a long orchestral rhapsody without the voice. I understand it now. I wrote it when I arrived home.

© Robert Walker 1987