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Resources by Paula Downes, a lot of music by Andrew Downes
This poem was written in March 1913. It depicts Hardy's visit to the village of Boscastle during his "pilgrimage" to Cornwall.
"When reaching the main road above the harbour approach, Hardy looked back at the old ascent towards the village of Boscastle, and recalled walking up there with Emma Gifford in March of 1870". (Pinion)
As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,
And the drizzle bedrenches the waggonette,
I look behind at the fading byway,
And see on its slope, now glistening wet,
Myself and a girlish form benighted
In dry March weather. We climb the road
Beside a chaise. We had just alighted
To ease the sturdy pony's load
When he sighed and slowed.
What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of
Matters not much, nor to what it led, -
Something that life will not be balked of
Without rude reason till hope is dead,
And feeling fled.
It filled but a minute. But was there ever
A time of such quality, since or before,
In that hill's story? To one mind never,
Though it has been climbed, foot-swift, foot-sore,
By thousands more.
Primaeval rocks form the road's steep border,
And much have they faced there, first and last,
Of the transitory in Earth's long order;
But what they record in colour and cast
Is - that we two passed.
And to me, though Time's unflinching rigour,
In mindless rote, has ruled from sight
The substance now, one phantom figure
Remains on the slope, as when that night
Saw us alight.
I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,
I look back at it amid the rain
For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love's domain
This is the longest song of the cycle, comprising seven stanzas. The stanzas are not as clearly distinguished from each other in the music as in the previous songs. Instead, Downes, like Hardy, distinguishes between past and present. In stanza one, a closer study of the linguistic devices reveal that Hardy portrayed the present as ugly, and the past as dreamy. The present is full of pathos: pathetic fallacy (the drizzle); hard (d, j, b, gg, zz, ch)/sharp (t, s) consonants; and mostly short vowels. The transformation to the hazy/dreamy past is conveyed by sibilants. Downes on the other hand, interprets the present as having a feeling of expectation: the driving crotchet/quaver rhythm and lively dorian-mode melody portraying the horse galloping along with the wagonette in the rain, conjure up nervous excitement. Fast rhythms in the vocal line make the consonants even more difficult to articulate as Hardy excitedly trips over his words. To portray Hardy's 'dreamy past', Downes gives the singer freedom in quasi-recitatives, and he causes the music to slow down in this stanza, by including the final short line in the phrase before.
In stanza two, Hardy keeps the pace of the poem slow, using long vowels (y, ir, or, igh, ar, ea, I, oa, ai, o, ow) and long consonants (sl) to conjure up the past. In the song, the galloping crotchet-quaver rhythm returns at the beginning of stanza two, as though Hardy is jolted back to the present for a few moments. This quickly gives way to the long vowels: in line two of the poetry, each syllable is now given a dotted crotchet rather than a crotchet or quaver. Hereafter, the quasi-recitative style of the end of stanza one returns, with the odd chord in the piano marking out punctuation and key words. There is also a move to the dorian mode on E at the same time as from present to past. The chord after 'weather' (E, B, F sharp) sets the scene for the past.
Monosyllabic words and long vowels in stanza three continue to hold the pace of the poem back, as Hardy wishes to linger in a state of joyful reminiscence. The lydian mode is used in abundance by Downes in this stanza, establishing it as the mode of elation for the song. Modulation happens much more frequently in this stanza, giving the impression of giddy happiness. It occurs at keywords: 'led' is in the lydian mode on D; 'life' in the lydian mode on F; 'dead' is set against a seventh chord on C sharp; 'fled' against a seventh chord on F sharp. 'Feeling fled' is painted with a very high tessitura to bring out the elation. At the same time it is marked p diminuendo pp molto legato, reflecting Hardy's use of soft consonants. It seems to be a point of intimacy that Hardy feels should be kept private. The poco rit implies that he is lost in that one moment.
The whole of stanza four is quasi-recitative: the voice is unaccompanied apart from occasional piano chords. The unaccompanied monotone on F sharp at the beginning of this stanza gives a feeling of expectation due to the fact that the F sharp is part of the unresolved seventh chord at the end of stanza three. The vocal line finally ascends, unaccompanied in the lydian mode on G flat, with a chord in the piano (seventh on F) on 'quality' and a seventh on D on 'story'. The unresolved chord on 'story' illustrates the question mark. These key words are emphasised in the poetry by their internal rhyme.
The musical material at the beginning of stanza five is very similar to the opening of the song, but the vocal part now has longer note values for each syllable, highlighting the long vowels of the first two lines. Downes is using a mixture of past and present 'techniques' to show that the 'Primaeval rocks' have always been there. At 'Of the transitory...' the musical material changes: the vocal part uses four notes in the same pattern over and over again, creating more and more tension as the melody tries to find a tonal goal. This reflects Hardy's polysyllabic build-up to the monosyllabic last line in the poetry. The C sharp is decided upon as the 'goal' of the vocal line, and is used as a crescendoing monotone for the final line of the stanza. Each syllable in this final line is given a dotted crotchet apart from the last one, which is given thirteen beats. The dotted crotchet rest after 'Is' reflects the punctuation mark in the poetry, while at the same time maintaining the rhythmical flow. The piano joins in at 'passed' using the introductory 'galloping' material in the right-hand, against ascending arpeggios in the left-hand on all the black notes of the keyboard. In the same way as the first stanza, the final line is included in the phrase containing the line before. This time, however, a great sense of momentum is created rather than a sense of slowing down.
In stanza six, dissonance and hissing sibilants in the poetry convey that time is 'unflinching' and 'mindless', unsympathetic to human feelings. The voice resumes the dorian mode on D, but the piano adds an E flat, creating a feeling of insecurity. From 'one phantom...', soft consonants (w, f, r, sth, l) help to conjure up Emma's ghost. The whole-tone mode is used in the voice and piano, creating an eerie atmosphere.
In stanza seven, the voice sings on a monotone against a series of relentless minor seventh chords with no resolution, creating a feeling of aimlessness, as Hardy is brought back to reality. In the piano part these gradually ascend, building up emotion. The sibilants of 'shrinking', 'sand' and 'sinking' help to create a sense of fading away.
Performing the Song
The introduction to stanza one is marked softly, but mini crescendos, for example going into the change of chord in bar four, would increase momentum. For the singer, this song requires the liveliest energy of all the cycle, especially for the melisma on 'looked'. The consonants are difficult to articulate due to the fast rhythm, but if they are articulated well, the excitement is increased. Although the singer has more freedom in the quasi-recitative section, if he/she slows down too much it may be difficult to resume momentum in the second stanza.
For most of stanza two, the singer has freedom from the point of view of timing. The vowels in line two could be drawn out by very sustained singing. The scene has now been set; Hardy begins his 'tale' at 'We climb...'. The singer could mark this change by singing the words more quickly and more vitally. 'Ease' is painted with a high note, which automatically slows the singer down because it is difficult to sing 'ea' on a high note following a leap. The poco meno mosso at 'when he sighed...', will be more effective, however, if the previous lines are essentially moving on. Lingering on 'sighed', or labouring the upward leap of a minor 3rd, will help to illustrate the action. Lingering on every consonant of 'slowed' will have the same effect.
Stanza thee is marked a tempo, but as in 'Where the Picnic Was', the sweeping piano accompaniment and frequent modulations call for rubato. It would be extremely effective if, on the second line of poetry, the singer crescendoed up to 'much' and then made a subito piano for 'nor to what it led', as though it should be hushed. 'Feeling fled' is very difficult to sing due to the high tessitura and quiet dynamic: the best way is probably in half-voice to make it sound hushed (this will also emphasise the rhyming between 'led' and 'fled').
The timing and dynamics in stanza four can be very free. In order to make 'a time of such quality' as ecstatic as possible, perhaps the mp marking at the beginning of the stanza could be kept absolutely even, so that the crescendo on 'ever a time' is as explosive as possible. Perhaps 'it filled but a minute', and the rests after could be exactly in time, with 'but was there...' gradually increasing in speed. The singer could then take his/her time up until 'story' to give opportunity to move on and build up excitement for 'foot-swift, foot-sore'. These two words are already difficult to sing because of the abundance of consonants and the leaping intervals. Increasing the difficulty by speeding up would heighten the excitement. This would also provide enough momentum for the return of the wagonette theme.
If the singer lingers on the long vowels at the beginning of stanza five, the forward momentum is in danger of being diminished. To keep the beginning of this stanza as vital as the beginning of stanza one, the same energy could be used, but perhaps the singing could be more sustained. It is important to grade the crescendo from 'Of the transitory...', in order to create all the necessary tension. It is probably better not to breathe after 'Is', to maintain the momentum, and extremely sustained singing for the rest of this line, would heighten the climax. As this line seems to be the climax of the entire song cycle, the pianist and the singer can 'let go'.
As in 'Where the Picnic Was', it will be difficult for the singer to control the next passage at the beginning of stanza six, marked mp after the emotional outcry of stanza five, but again, this will be realistic. In order to make sense of the words, 'And to me' should be contrasted with 'though times...', so that 'And to me...' can be linked to 'one phantom...'. Perhaps 'though time's...', could be sung with an ugly nasal quality to convey anger, contrasting with the warmly marking for 'one phantom...'. 'As when that night...' is marked p. Maybe the singer could use half-voice to show that the past is slipping away.
To reflect the feeling of loss at the beginning of stanza seven, the singer could either add a sobbing quality to the voice, or could perhaps flatten the sound to produce a numb quality, which would be reflected in the aimless chord progressions in the piano part. A crescendo up to the first 'shrinking' would increase the effect of the echo in half voice on the second 'shrinking'. If the rest of the stanza is kept at a very level piano dynamic right up until 'And I shall...', the crescendo will be very effective. If the piano maintains the new loud dynamic right up until the end of the stanza, it will heighten the emotion, and will provide an effective contrast with the beginning of song no.5.
You are now invited to watch a film realisation of 'At Castle Boterel'.
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Analysis and Performance though Film: Song No. 3, 'Where the Picnic Was'
Analysis and Performance though Film: Song No. 2, 'Something Tapped'
Analysis and Performance though Film: Song No. 1, 'The Division'
CASE STUDY Andrew Downes' Old Love's Domain: Analysis and Performance through Film
Analysis and Performance: A Survey of the Literature
 Pinion, Francis Betram, A Commentary on the Poems of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1976), 107.
Resources by Paula Downes, a lot of music by Andrew Downes
Back to andrewdownes.com