• Thea Musgrave
  • On the Underground Set No. 3 (A Medieval Summer) (1995)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Ionian Singers, with funds made available by the Holst Foundation Award Scheme

  • SATB
  • 10 min
  • anon. (13-16th Centuries), Chaucer

Programme Note


There is one unexpected pleasure taking the London Underground (and, more recently, also the New York City subway): one's eye may alight on a poem placed amongst the pervasive and numbing advertisements, and, for a moment, the imagination takes wing.

In A medieval Summer poems and music are interwoven to form a kind of tapestry which is intended as a memory of medieval times. Chaucer's Roundel (from The Parliament of Fowls) provides the framework into which the other poems are inserted. Some of the musical material appears in its original form: for instance the famous 13th century round "Sumer is icumen in, loude sing cuckoo". Here, the intruding cuckoo, which has been heralded by an offstage solo tenor, is shown as the betrayer of true love and effects an abrupt change of mood. The joyful welcoming of summer becomes an angry lament. At the end, the final lines of the Chaucer roundel, now softly accompany a solo soprano as she exits singing the lines of the cuckoo in a sad echo.