• Lennox Berkeley
  • Three Greek Songs, Op. 38 (1951)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

1. Epitaph of Timas 2. Spring of Song 3. To Aster

  • medium voicepf
  • Lennox Berkeley
  • 1. Sappho 2. Antipater 3. Plato, trans. F A Wright

Programme Note

Three Greek Songs

1. Epitaph of Timas (Sappho)
2. Spring Song (Antipater)
3. To Aster (Plato)

The ‘Three Greek Songs’ date from 1953. In the anonymous translations, the Greek poems have been comfortably anglicised, and there is in fact no feature in the musical setting that we could point to as being specifically ‘Greek’. The songs are brief; and in the first bar of each a characteristic rhythmic pattern is established in the accompaniment, to be maintained throughout the song. Sappho’s ‘Epitaph’ is declaimed to moving phrases, while the piano part is based on the idea of a rising semitone – generally one discord ‘resolving’ upwards, and in syncopated rhythm, to another. At the words ‘She knew not wedlock’s hour’ there is a poignant use of false relations, with the major third in the accompaniment, and the minor third in the vocal line.

Antipater’s ‘Spring Song’ is set to a free, attractive melody, the rhythmic variety of which contrasts prettily with the moto perpetuo semiquavers of the accompaniment. The first and last strophes are parallel, though not identical. For Aster (a Greek name which means star), Plato wrote both the epigram here set, and an epitaph best know in Shelley’s translation. In ‘To Aster’ the accompaniment moves, lento, in close rich harmonies, over a slow-rising bass; interlocking phrases maintain a steady quaver motion. Until the last words, the vocal line spans through no interval than a third.

Andrew Porter