Gems and Tempests (2015)

Three songs on Shakespeare sonnets for soloists and chorus; premiered Sunday, January 24, 2016, 5:00 p.m. at King's Chapel, Boston under the direction of Heinrich Christensen as part of the "Shakespeare in Music" concert; program included works by Vaughan Williams, Mäntyjärvi, Richard J.S. Stevens, Morley, and Gabold; commissioned by King's Chapel.

Music to hear snippet.jpg

Program notes from the premiere:

Composed for tonight’s King’s Chapel choral program, Gems and Tempests is a setting of Shakespeare’s sonnets numbers 8, 27, and 116.  When Heinrich Christensen approached me about doing choral settings of these venerable works, my mind turned immediately to the challenges of such an undertaking.  First, the sonnets are presented in the first person singular—arguably, Shakespeaere’s own voice—which poses obvious issues when preparing a musical setting for a chorus of twenty mixed voices.  Second, the density, complexity, and archaic nature of Shakespeare’s poetic language poses major hurdles for many contemporary audiences.  How then does one create a singable and comprehensible musical setting of a Shakespeare sonnet?  My approach was to compose these pieces as solo songs and to use the chorus in a supporting role, accompanying at times, creating counterpoint and reflection at others.  There are instances where the chorus employs effects that mimic instrumental sounds—the plucking of strings, for example—as a direct reference to elements from the sonnets (“Mark how one string, sweet husband to another, strikes each by each in mutual ordering…”).  The last of the three songs, sonnet 116, is an adaptation of an earlier setting that was commissioned by soprano Mary Ann Lanier for voice and piano trio (Be My Love: Songs of Love, Lust, and Other Folly).  



Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lov'st thou that which thou receiv'st not gladly,
Or else receiv'st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire and child and happy mother
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
    Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
    Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'


Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
   Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
   For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixèd mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.