The Hazel Wood (2012)
A Setting of W B Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus.
SATB, Brass Quintet and Organ (or SATB & Organ)
Commissioned by the John Armitage Memorial for their 2013 season.
fp. (recording). 10-11 January 2013; Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, Sarah MacDonald, Onyx Brass, Selwyn College, Cambridge, UK
fp. 14 February 2013; Edinburgh University Chamber Choir, Aberdeen University Chamber Choir, St Andrew’s University Chapel Choir, Red Note Ensemble, Michael Bawtree, Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews, UK
lon.p. fp. 20 March 2014; Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, Nicholas Cleobury, Onyx Brass, St Bride’s Church, London, UK
A recording of this work is available on Phillip Cooke, Choral Music released on Regent Records, REGCD411 and available to buy here.
The Hazel Wood is a setting of W B Yeats’s famous poem ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ from his 1899 collection The Wind Among Reeds. Like much of Yeats’s work it is a heady mix of Celtic mythology, Christian allusions and personal reminiscences all of which appeal greatly to me as a composer. The Aengus of Yeats’s poem was a god of Irish mythology who stayed forever young in a world of immortality and lived in a palace on what it today’s River Boyne. As the story goes, he became sick with love for a young maiden he had glimpsed only once, and after years of searching he finally found her, but rather unhelpfully she had become a swan. He jumped into the water with her, became a swan and they lived happily ever after. In Yeats’s version of the story the protagonist has become an old man by the end of the poem and looks back wistfully at his life, the final verse being more bittersweet then the preceding material.
I was taken by the inherent drama in Yeats’s verse, from the passion and obsession of the opening lines (‘a fire was in my head’), the years of searching, the revealing of the girl and then the final nostalgic reminiscences – it felt like a grand narrative, a story that had to be told, and one that would benefit from music. The Hazel Wood is in three distinct sections (which don’t necessarily correlate to the verses of the poem): a twisting, polyphonic opening over a repeated pedal in the organ which then moves to a long second section with rapturous vocal phrases and powerful brass interjections, the final section is a variation on the opening with a serene coda for solo soprano and a capella chorus.