• Lennox Berkeley
  • Signs in the Dark (1967)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the 1967 Stroud Fetsival

  • str
  • SATB
  • 22 min

Programme Note

Day of These Days
Twelfth Night
The Three Winds
Poem for Easter

Commissioned by the Stroud Festival, Signs in the Dark, a setting of poems by Laurie Lee for SATB chorus and strings, was completed in July 1967 and first performed in October of that year. The title of the cycle is drawn from a line of the second poem.

The texts selected progress from autumn, through winter, to early spring and Easter: the settings are therefore through-composed rather than strophic and, though it may be seen to fall into a conventional four-movement pattern (allegro – slow movement – scherzo – finale), the work plays without a break. Unity is achieved by the development of several short motifs, the most important of which, an exuberant, thrusting figure made up of a rising fourth and a rising second, is heard on the first violins at the outset and is taken up by the chorus at its first entry. A more relaxed passage inverts this figure while lilting quavers take the place of rapid semiquavers. The sombre, occasionally lugubrious mood of the second setting is dispelled by a capricious scherzo: here there is a change of emphasis, both harmonically and melodically, from fourths to thirds, and Berkeley delights in exploiting the possibilities of rhythmic ambiguity afforded by the compound time. In the last poem, slow, predominantly lyrical sections frame an allegro whose string figurations are reminiscent of the first movement. The work closes quietly on strings alone, the notes of the opening figure sounding together in the final chords.

Sings in The Dark is dedicated to the composer’s wife, Freda.

Graham Mackie
April 1984