• Julian Philips
  • The Country of Larks (2021)

  • Peters Edition Limited (World)
  • T + hn/pf
  • Tenor
  • 10 min
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • English

Programme Note

The Country of Larks (2021)
for tenor, horn & piano
Text: drawn from Robert Louis Stevenson's essay An Autumn Effect (1875)

Conceived for the same forces as Schubert's Auf dem Strom (D943), The Country of Larks is a miniature cantata for tenor, horn and piano, that investigates an epiphanous moment of connection with nature. The text was extracted and reassembled from Robert Louis Stevenson's An Autumn Effect, an 1875 essay that describes an autumnal hike through the Chilterns, philosophical, comical and poignant by turns. 

Stevenson's narrative framework is fileted into a short sequence of short recitative and arioso sections, culminating in an extended musical response to his fascination for the larks that hovered above so much of his Chilterns' walk. In this final Lark Song section, the tenor line broadens out, the horn evokes familiar bucolic resonances, while the right hand of the piano is a direct transcription of a field recording of a lark, left hovering in the air at the close of the piece. 

Looking back on Stevenson in 1875, there's almost a prelapsarian innocence to his wonder at the larks' singing. The Lark is currently on the RSPB's red list, with UK lark populations falling by well over 50% in the last 25 years. Uncannily, Stevenson's Chilterns walk also almost directly shadows the route of HS2. Though neither of these contexts is explicitly stated in The Country of Larks, they profoundly informed the work's genesis. 

The Country of Larks was commissioned by the 2021 Oxford Lieder Festival, on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.

Julian Philips, 2023