(1993, CD )
Musical Times, 1939
Musical Times, 1939
(analytical descriptive article, June 1939)
Phyllida and Corydon
- Madrigal - Phyllida
and Corydon (Nicholas Breton, 1545-1626)
- Madrigal - Beauty
sat bathing by a stream (Anthony Munday, 1553-1633)
- Pastoral - On
a hill there grows a flower (Nicholas Breton, 1545-1626)
- Air - Phyllis
inamorata (Lancelot Andrews, 1555-1626)
- Ballet - Said
I that Amaryllis (Anon., C16)
- Canzonet - The
treasure of my heart (Sir Philip Sidney, 1554-1586)
- Air - While she
lies sleeping (Anon., C16)
- Pastoral - Corydon,
arise (Anon., C16)
- Madrigal - To
meadows (Robert Herrick, 1591-1674)
was busy on his Violin
Concerto, begun in 1937, and not completed until 1941, when
he interrupted his work to write the madrigal suite for unaccompanied
SATB chorus, Phyllida and Corydon. Unlike the Concerto, which seems
to follow logically and musically on from the Symphony
in G minor, there is little to relate either work to this one.
Moeran set exclusively Elizabethan period pastoral
poetry, much of it only loosely connected, in a particularly well
honed madrigal style. Unlike earlier, Victorian pastiche efforts,
Moeran has fully understood and implemented the intricacies of rhythms,
accents and melodic shapes of the original English madrigalists,
in particular Morley, but also Wilbye and Benet.
But Moeran is not writing straight imitations, and
within the established patterns he is able to add his own chromaticisms
and modulations from a harmony many centuries forward. Some commentators
have found this cross-pollination to be something of a problem,
and have expressed unease with chromaticism sitting upon such strict
sixteenth century structures.
Geoffrey Self, however, finds value in this: "The
work is highly characteristic of its composer, and valuable therefore
precisely because of the stylistic inconsistency. For we are continually
made aware, throughout his music, of a kind of divide/dichotomy.
Within it lyricism has two faces - major/minor tonality is split
in false relation, passages of pastoral diatonicism are dispersed
in polytonality: and here, in Phyllida and Corydon strict Tudor
polyphony is set against extreme chromaticism."
He goes on to suggest that some of the most "worrying"
examples of this are also the sections of most overwhelming intensity.
To my own ears I must admit I find no great problem with this aspect
of the work. I do admit it is not a piece I have studied extensively,
but to one who has grown up with far more 'difficult' harmony to
contend with, Phyllida and Corydon works very well indeed.
Self also picks up on some interested and perhaps
unexpected musical relations with other works of the time. Despite
my assertion that Phyllida and Corydon bears little relation to
contemporaneous works, plucking out the line "so vain desire was
hidden" from Beauty sat bathing by a stream and finding almost direct
parallel melodic use in both the Symphony and Violin Concerto. From
this he speculates on a hidden meaning now illustrated: "If its
use is deliberate, what 'vain desire' is enshrined in the two major
works - a desire, a yearning even, for ultimate peace?"
Yet the conclusion of Phyllida and Corydon fails to
find this 'ultimate peace' - Self describes the final madrigal To
meadows as an image "of utter loneliness, bereft of consolation.
I know of only one work, Delius' Sea Drift...to compare with its
emotional desolation." Perhaps 1939 was not an ideal year for
an injured First World War veteran to be writing particularly optimistic
"strict Tudor polyphony is set against