Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sir Arthur Sullivan: Motet - The Long Day Closes

Arthur Sullivan’s reputation as a composer has always been complicated by the fact that he is invariably seen as one half of G&S! However, recent years have enabled the listener to hear a number of works that have lain hidden for nearly a century. I can recommend the Irish Symphony and the Cello Concerto to anyone who has not heard music beyond the D’Oly Carte Operas. Yet Sullivan also wrote choral music suitable for perfomance in both churches and glee clubs.

Perhaps the most famous of all Victorian madrigals is the sad yet inspiring ‘The Long Day Closes'.

No star is o'er the lake,
Its pale watch keeping,
The moon is half awake,
Through gray mists creeping,
The last red leaves fall round
The porch of roses,
The clock hath ceased to sound,
The long day closes.

Sit by the silent hearth
In calm endeavour,
To count the sounds of mirth,
Now dumb for ever.
Heed not how hope believes
And fate disposes:
Shadow is round the eaves,
The long day closes.

The lighted windows dim
Are fading slowly.
The fire that was so trim
Now quivers lowly,
Quivers lowly.

Go to the dreamless bed
Where grief reposes;
Thy book of toil is read,
The long day closes;

The text was by a poet, librettist and art critic called Henry Chorley – he was a friend of the composer. As a meditation on death it is superb. Forget supposed Victorian sentimentality – this is profound stuff. And Sullivan’s setting matches itself to the words perfectly. The composer's reprise of the opening melody for “Go to the dreamless bed/ Where grief reposes/ Thy book of toil is read/ The long day closes,” is sheer perfection.

And remember that this was written some three years before W.S. Gilbert wrote the libretto for Cox and Box – the first fruits of that partnership.

Listen to this work on YouTube


Can Bass 1 said...

Thank you, dear sir, for reminding me of such a lovely piece of music. Sullivan is indeed overlooked (and overshadowed by that ogre, Gilbert). Just one thing - can you arrange next time for the choir to wear something other than denim?

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be pedantic but the libretto to Cox & Box was not written by W.S.Gilbert but by F.C.Burnand, the editor of Punch magazine. It was, in fact,an adaptation of a farce by the American writer J.Maddison Morton and originally titled Box & Cox.