• John McCabe
  • Silver Nocturnes (String Quartet No 6) (2011)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 2vn.va.vc
  • Baritone

Programme Note

Silver Nocturnes was commissioned by Jo Boosey in memory of her husband, for first performance by Marcus Farnsworth and the Alberni String Quartet in St Mary’s Church, Pembridge, Herefordshire, on 17th March 2012. Mrs Boosey was very keen to include a baritone voice along with string quartet, an idea that had attracted me for some years (there are some splendid examples of voice plus string quartet in the repertoire), and we worked out a scheme with poems by three of the so-called “Silver Poets” of the sixteenth century: Henry Howard (Earl of Surrey, and one of my favourite poets), Sir Edward Dyer, and Sir Philip Sidney. To act as prelude and postlude , I chose an extract from a speech by John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

The essence of the music is, of course, reflective, with Dyer’s The lowest Trees have tops acting as a kind of scherzo. Before the final song, Sir Philip Sidney’s My true love hath my heart, there is an Interlude for string quartet alone, perhaps the most consistently intense music in the work. Silver Nocturnes begins with a unison statement on muted strings, but playing forte, of a plainsong-like phrase which assumes considerably importance during the music, driving especially the vocal melodies for the Howard and Sidney songs.

(c) John McCabe

I. Richard II (Shakespeare): Act 2 Scene 1: John of Gaunt:
More are men’s ends mark’d than their lives before:
The setting sun, and music at the close,
As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,
Writ in remembrance more than things long past

II. Set me whereas the sun (Howard) (XII of Poems of Love and Chivalry)
Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green,
Or where his beams may not dissolve the ice,
In temperate heat, where he is felt and seen;
With proud people, in presence sad and wise;
Set me in low, or yet in high degree;
In the long night, or in the shortest day;
In clear weather, or where clouds thickest be;
In lusty youth, or when my hairs be gray:
Set me in earth, in heaven, or yet in hell,
In hill, in dale, or in the foaming flood;
Thrall, or at large, alive whereso I dwell,
Sick, or in health, in ill fame or in good,
Yours will I be, and with this only thought
Comfort myself when that my hope is nought.

III. The lowest Trees have tops (Dyer)
The lowest Trees have tops, the Ante her gall,
The flie her splene, the little sparkes their heate:
The slender haires cast shadowes, though but small,
And Bees have stings, although they be not great:
Seas have their sourse, & so have shallow springs,
And love is love, in Beggars, as in Kings.
Where rivers smoothest run, deepe are the foords,
The Diall stirres, yet none perceives it moove:
The firmest faith is in the fewest wordes,
The Turtles cannot sing, and yet they love:
True Harts have eyes, & eares, no tongs to speake,
They heare, & see, and sigh, and then they breake.

IV. Interlude (string quartet)

V. My true love (Sidney)
My true love hath my heart and I have his,
By just exchange one for another given:
I hold his deare, and mine he cannot misse,
There never was a better bargaine driven.
My true love hath my heart and I have his.
My heart in me keepes him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and sences guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his owne,
I cherish his because in me it bides.
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

VI. Richard II
The setting sun, and music at the close,
As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,
Writ in remembrance more than things long past

More Info