• Gunther Schuller
  • Six Renaissance Lyrics (1962)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • fl, ob, pf, vn, va, vc, db
  • Lyric Tenor
  • 15 min
  • Shakespeare, de la Cruz, von der Vogelweide, Petrarch, Ronsard, Michelangelo

Programme Note

World Premiere: Tanglewood, the New York Chamber
Soloists; Charles Bressler, tenor
Performed August 1, 1962.

Composer Note:
Six Renaissance Lyrics consists of a cycle of songs by various great poets of the Renaissance, the texts being set in their “ancient” form as they were spoken in the 12th to the 16th century. The total ensemble of flute, oboe, string quartet (including bass) and piano is used in a different instrumental combination for each of the six songs. Thus Shakespeare’s Sonnet, 87, Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing, is set for oboe and string quartet. Juan de la Cruz’s Noche Oscura is, except for the four measures of a piano cadence, for string quartet, exploiting the particularly dark, low registers of the strings. Also, the music is set in typical Spanish rhythms, particularly the 3-over –2 patterns endemic to Spanish dance music.

The third song, Walther von der Vogelweide’s Under der Linden, uses only three “renaissance” instruments, oboe, viola and antique cymbal (played by the violinist). In this simple, folk-song-like piece, the instruments accompany the tenor in typical triplet rhythms of early Renaissance two-part polyphony. Petrarch’s Sonnet 126 is set for cello, bass and piano, and is a work set almost entirely in very rigorous, quattrocento canonic polyphony. A short refrain in cello and bass harmonics delineates the stanzas of Petrarch’s poem.

The fifth movement, La continuation des amours of Ronsard, is a kind of “troubadour” song accompanied only by flute and bass in a very closely-knit melodic and contrapuntal setting. A brief instrumental interlude connects directly into the sixth and final movement, Michelangelo’s sonnet O notte, O dolce tempo, in which the full complement of instruments is used for the first time in the work. Although it might not immediately be discernible, the eight-musician ensemble is divided into three groups, each of which performs its music simultaneously at a different tempo level. Thus, the strings play a slow, sustained harmonic accompaniment representing the slowest level of continuity (quarter note = 50), the tenor sings at a medium tempo, twice that of the strings (quarter note = 100), and the woodwinds and piano offer pointillistic, fast-moving commentaries in the high register at the quickest of the three tempo levels (quarter note = 200).

The work was completed in May, 1962 and was first performed by the tenor Charles Bressler and the New York Chamber Soloists directed by Melvin Kaplan.

— Gunther Schuller


1. SONNET 87

Farewell! Thou art too dear for my possessing.
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate.
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting.
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a King, but waking no such matter
— William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


In a dark night, inflamed with desires of love,
(Oh happy moment!)
I slipped away unseen
As my home in deep slumber lay,

From dangers secure,
By a secret stairway hidden
(Oh happy moment!)
in the darkness, in feigned arousal.
As my home in deep slumber lay.

In that happy night
In secrecy, seen by none;
And nothing to be seen,
With no light to guide me
Except that which was in my ardent heart.

Which led me more than the light of high noon;
To where there waited one
Whom I knew so well
In a place where no one was in sight.

Oh, dark of night, my guide!
Oh night more lovely than any sunrise!
Oh night, which joined the lover to the loved one,
The loved one in the lover transformed.

There in my festive breast
Which I enter though he alone who guards it,
Where I remained at rest
And I gave myself,
The points of the cedars swaying in the breeze.

The breeze coming over the turrets,
As I played lovingly with his hair,
With his gentle hand caressing my throat.
All my senses in oblivion lay.
Quite out of myself suspended,
My forehead reclining on my lover’s,
Everything ended, everything extinguished.
With all my cares untwined,
Among the lilies finding oblivion.

— Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591)
(Freely translated)


Under the linden tree on the heath
Where was our bed,
There might you find broken flowers and grass,
Near the woods in a valley.
Beautifully sang the nightingale;
I came along to this place,
And there too was my lady.
There was I captured by this woman,
So that I am happy forever more.
She kissed me for a thousand hours
Look how red is my mouth,
There we made then, rich with flowers,
A bedding place.
As we were lost in heartfelt laughter,
Someone came on that same path.
For the roses, he probably could
Notice where we had lain.
That she was lying with me, now someone knows.
(Dear God!) So shamed was I
of what she was doing with me,
never again will anyone discover
that which she and I had a little bird
Knew was the truth.

— Walter von der Vogelweide (1170-1230)
(freely translated)

4. SONNET 126

Say from what part of heaven ‘twas Nature drew,
From what idea, that so perfect mold
To form such features, bidding us behold,
In charms below, what she above could do?
What mountain nymph, what dryad maid e’er threw
Upon the wind such tresses of pure gold?
What heart such numerous virtues can unfold?
Although the chiefest all my fond hopes slew.
He for celestial charms may look in vain
Who has not seen my fair one’s radiant eyes,
And felt their glances pleasantly beguile.
How love can heal his wounds, then wound again,
He only knows who knows how sweet her sighs.
How sweet her converse, and how sweet her smile?

— Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)
(freely translated)


I send you a bouquet which my hands have just picked among these blossoming flowers: if someone had not gathered them this evening, to the ground they would have fallen tomorrow.
This should be for you a lesson that your beauty, though flowering now, in a little while will be faded, and like flowers will suddenly perish. Time flies, time flies, my Lady!
Alas! Alas, not time, but we who pass and soon will lie beneath the tomb; and the loves of which we speak, when we are dead will be new no more. For this, love me now, while you are still beautiful.

— Pierre de Ronsard (1524?-1585)
(freely translated)


O night, O gentle time, although black,
Granting peace to man’s works at last;
Well he knows and sees who sings your praises,
And he who honors you is rich of intellect.
You shut off and interrupt those weary thoughts
Which dark shadows and repose bring us.
And from the lowest to the highest,
In frequent dreams you carry me where I want to go.
O shadow of death, which halts all miseries of the soul,
The heart’s enemy, man’s last affliction and final remedy;
You render healthy our fleshly infirmity, dry our tears,
Lay aside our toils, and take from the good all wrath and weakness

— Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564)
(Freely translated)