Eleanor Aversa
distributed by NoteNova

5:30
2012

Thomas Hardy’s poem describes a bleak winter landscape that is suddenly illuminated by bird song. The joyous music seems odd coming from a small bedraggled bird… What does it know that we don’t? This setting presents the poem as is, then revisits the text from the point of view of the bird. This latter half of the piece incorporates fragments of melody based on actual field recordings of the hermit thrush, the wood thrush, and the veery.

The Darkling Thrush was commissioned by San Francisco Choral Artists for their winter concert when I was their 2012/2013 Composer-Not-in-Residence. The original piece was for 12-part choir; this 4-part version is appropriate for choirs of any level.

Text

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

— Thomas Hardy, (1840-1928)

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