The Spell of the Rose

Double choir, SATB quartet; 10 minutes

When I first read The Spell of the Rose, I immediately knew I wanted solo voices for the quotations in the first person perspective, and full choir for the narrative perspective. I also liked the idea of the audience seeing this huge choir before them, yet the first sounds they hear come from soloists. It immediately gives a more personal connection, despite the number of performers. However, a full verse of soloist would have been too long to begin the piece, so I decided to dovetail the first and second verse. Since these were the only two verses to mirror each other, I felt the antiphonal result was an appropriate treatment. Additionally, the fact the antiphonal texture is dropped after the second verse adds to the feeling of loss expressed in the poem.

After the second verse, the piece becomes slightly darker as we discover the “Spell” is more like a curse. Hope returns in the fourth verse with the soloists declaring they can salvage the situation by planting the promised rose bush.

The fifth verse amasses most of the previous musical ideas as it grows towards the end. “But I was called…” re-uses the same music heard earlier at “raised horrid shows…”, but doubled in duration. The soloists echo some words from the first verse as the momentum builds towards “Gave me his heart anew”. The E major chord on “Gave”, is the first emphasized major chord of the piece. This reflects my interpretation that the narrator believes “she” was successful, and “he” did, indeed, re-dedicate his heart to her.

My decision for omitting Thomas Hardy’s final verse came about for several reasons. Most importantly, I wanted to end the composition with an ascension to “Gave me his heart anew!” The sixth verse reaffirms that “he” has re-evaluated his viewpoint and now has a new appreciation for that which he has lost. I felt this was amply expressed in my treatment of “Gave me his heart anew”. Furthermore, I preferred to end with the former words, rather than “Too late to tell me so!”  

(Full text below)

Premiered November 14, 2004 at the Metropolitan United Church, Toronto.

The premier performance was given by over 200 voices, including:

McGill University Chamber Choir
Université d'Ottawa Calixa Lavallée Ensemble
University of Toronto MacMillan Singers
University of Guelph Chamber Choir
Acadia University Singers
Wilfrid Laurier University Choir
University of Lethbridge Singers

Robert Sund, director

Recorded excerpts

Commissioned by Soundstreams Canada

The Spell of the Rose

Thomas Hardy,

"I mean to build a hall anon,
And shape two turrets there,
And a broad newelled stair,
And a cool well for crystal water;
Yes; I will build a hall anon,
Plant roses love shall feed upon,
And apple trees and pear.”

He set to build the manor-hall,
And shaped the turrets there,
And the broad newelled stair,
And the cool well for crystal water;
He built for me that manor-hall,
And planted many trees withal,
But no rose anywhere.

And as he planted never a rose
That bears the flower of love,
Though other flower's throve
A frost-wind moved our souls to sever
Since he had planted never a rose;
And misconceits raised horrid shows,
And agonies came thereof.

“I'll mend these miseries,” then said I,
And so, at dead of night,
I went and, screened from sight,
That nought should keep our souls in severance,
I set a rose-bush. “This,” said I,
“May end divisions dire and wry,
And long-drawn days of blight.”

But I was called from earth -- yea, called
Before my rose-bush grew;
And would that now I knew
What feels he of the tree I planted,
And whether, after I was called
To be a ghost, he, as of old,
Gave me his heart anew!

[Final verse omitted]