Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams (7):
‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ 2, ‘I Got Me Flowers’



Patrick Comerford

For my reflections and devotions during Lent this year, each day I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

For the weekdays of this week, I am reflecting on ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams between 1906 and 1911. Vaughan Williams conducted the first performance of the completed work at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester on 14 September 1911.

The work, taken as one, sets four poems by the 17th century Welsh-born English poet and Anglican priest George Herbert (1593–1633), from his 1633 collection The Temple: Sacred Poems.

Many of George Herbert’s poems have become hymns that are well-known and well-loved by generations of Anglicans. They include ‘Let all the world in every corner sing,’ ‘Teach me, my God and King’ and ‘King of Glory, King of Peace.’

Vaughan Williams wrote his ‘Five Mystical Songs’ for a baritone soloist, with several choices for accompaniment: piano only; piano and string quintet; TTBB chorus, a cappella; and orchestra with optional SATB chorus, the choice Vaughan Williams used at the premiere.

Like George Herbert’s simple verse, the songs are fairly direct, but have the same intrinsic spirituality as the original text. They were supposed to be performed together, as a single work, but the styles of each vary quite significantly.

The first four songs are personal meditations in which the soloist takes a key role. Vaughan Williams has divided George Herbert’s poem Easter into two parts to provide the first two songs, ‘Easter’ and ‘I Got Me Flowers.’

As Lent is a pilgrimage or journey towards Easter, I have chosen the second of these Five Mystical Songs, ‘I Got Me Flowers,’ for my meditation this morning [24 February 2015]. This is second part of George Herbert’s poem ‘Easter.’

2, I Got Me Flowers

I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East.
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.


Tomorrow: The Five Mystical Songs,’ 3, ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’