Friday, 8 July 2011

Thomas Hardy: When I set out from Lyonnesse - a host of settings.

When I set out for Lyonnesse,
A hundred miles away,
The rime was on the spray,
And starlight lit my lonesomeness
When I set out for Lyonnesse
A hundred miles away.

What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there
No prophet durst declare,
Nor did the wisest wizard guess
What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there.

When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes,
[None managed to surmise
What meant my godlike gloriousness],
When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes!

Ever since reading this poem at school, it has been one of my favourite pieces of poetry - by Thomas Hardy and in the English language. To me it is evocative. I probably first heard it read at about the same time as I came across Arnold Bax's tone poem Tintagel. A few years later I discovered Gerald Finzi's fine setting of these words as the second song of the great song-cycle Earth and Air and Rain. However, looking in the indispensible volume by Bryan N.S. Gooch, David S. Thatcher & Odean Long, (Musical Settings of late Victorian and modern British literature: Garland Publishing 1976) I discovered at least a dozen other settings. I confess to knowing none of them!

Frederic Austin
Rutland Boughton
John Woods Duke
Gerald Finzi
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs
Sidney Harrison
Fritz Bennicke Hart
Irwin Heilner
Christopher Kaye Le Fleming
Tom M. McCourt
Katherine E. O'Brien
Charles A. Speyer
Leslie Walters

In fact out of this the above list I have never heard of Duke, Le Fleming, McCourt, O' Brien, Speyer or Walters. One wonders how good, bad or indifferent these settings are? I am inclined to imagine that at least one or two of them will be little masterpieces. I wonder if any of them will ever turn up in recitals or on CD.


Anonymous said...

There is a setting of the poem in Boughton's opera "The Queen of Cornwall", recently released on Dutton. I guess this is the setting referred to. Another Hardy poem referred to on this blog (regarding Winter Words) is also used in the opera: "If it's ever spring again", in a lovely setting

John France said...

Thanks for that.
The Dutton Epoch CD of Boughton's opera "The Queen of Cornwall" is 2CDLX 7256.
I have not heard this yet...

Charles Lock said...

About forty years ago, at a Thomas Hardy Summer School in Dorchester, I heard the Casterbridge Singers under the direction of Harold Durrant perform a setting of Thomas Hardy's poem 'Afterwards': 'When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay...'. I cannot recall the name of the composer but suspect that it might have been Christopher Kaye Le Fleming. The setting is, as I recall, a moving account that does not overwhelm the words; it deserves to be heard again.

Charles Lock