• Michael Hurd
  • Shepherd's Calendar (1975)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 2222/2000/hp/str
  • SATB
  • baritone
  • 33 min
  • John Clare
  • English

Programme Note

Michael Hurd: Shepherd's Calendar
for chorus, orchestra and baritone

Words by John Clare (1793 - 1864) Music by Michael Hurd

Commissioned by the Southampton Choral Society, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, this work was first performed at the Guildhall, Southampton, on 10 October, 1975, by the Southampton Choral Society, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and Michael Rippon (soloist). The conductor was Derek Goodger.

In the last twenty years there has been increasing interest in John Clare, possibly because the recurrent themes in his poetry and the details of his life are those which engage the sympathies of the twentieth century reader.

He saw the traditional patterns of the English landscape destroyed in the quest for bigger and, it was hoped, more efficient farming and he evoked an emotional response to the irreversible break with the past. While many people regard him as one of the foremost nature poets in the English language, others see his finest work emerging during his long periods of mental ill-health, when his creative genius was imprisoned in "This land of Sodom where all people's brains are turned the wrong way."

The son of an agricultural worker in the bleak Northamptonshire village of Helpston, Clare drew a picture of country life which was unique because it was that of the labourer. He conveyed exactly the sense of village community with its robust traditions of song and dialect. He wrote from within the village but was isolated from his fellows by his constant awareness and affirmation of the moments when man and nature interact.

The Shepherd's Calendar was published in 1827 but was not attuned to the expectations of contemporary readers.

"Withering and keen the winter comes
While comfort flyes to close shut rooms"

The opening lines are characteristic of a poem which charts with unsentimental accuracy the seasons, the toil and celebrations of the village year. The precision of the descriptions of birds, flowers and harvests is balanced by an underlining of the hardships and rituals that each season entailed. The social historian is given a complete picture of the village cycle. The poem is more than a social document for it is charged with an intensity which makes it one of the truest poems of country life that has ever been written.
A. S.

Using words mined from the twelve sections of The Shepherd's Calendar and one of the asylum lyrics, I have tried to suggest the elements of joy and nostalgia, grief and happiness that went to shape his life. I began work, after much dithering, on 7th January 1975 and completed the detailed sketches on January 28th. The vocal score was completed on March 6th and the orchestral full score on 10th May. The work falls into four movements, rather on the lines of a symphony, and there are musical cross-references between the movements. But it is not, I trust, music that depends upon some analytical sleight-of-hand to be understood.
© Michael Hurd