THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE ROSE

sound sample:
 
Orchestral suite   The Cold Crystal Stars [see also under Orchestral music]
 
 
   The Nightingale and the Rose was written very quickly in the years 1974-75. It was originally conceived as a chamber opera in one act, to be a companion to The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric, but this version was abandoned very early on and the whole work was recast for a full symphony orchestra. After the work was completed a suite for chamber orchestra was extracted from it (the original version of The Cold Crystal Stars), and this was performed in 1976. At the same time I wrote an extended preface to the score, and although I am not sure that I now agree with everything it says, it was what I meant to say at the time:

   

   Although this work is described as a fable it is not in the mind of the composer, who has himself adapted the text from the well-known short story by Oscar Wilde, to force any specific interpretation upon the listener. It may be taken that the Nightingale stands for Romantic Music, that the Beloved represents dodecaphony and that the Student is symbolic of the audience; such a reading could be substantiated by the music itself. But those who wish to discover alternative meanings, or those who desire to return to the original story in order to do so, may easily take such a course.

   The idiom is deliberately straightforward, even old-fashioned. The Beloved’s twelve-note row is firmly anchored within the diatonic system, consisting as it does of a simple series of fifths (ascending) or fourths (descending); thus it does not offend against the overall nature of the work. Much of the music is melodically founded, and the few motifs which do recur are to be regarded as purely symphonic in character, and not as dramatically representative.

   The work is also designed to be presented in the conventional way, in a conventional theatre with proscenium arch. It will almost certainly be found necessary, however, to amplify the voices of the singers, in particular those of the Nightingale, the Rose Trees, the animals and the chorus, since in the nature of the production it would seem inevitable that the singers will spend all their time in the wings while production effects represent them on stage. At all costs, the flavour of the traditional English pantomime must be avoided, as this would prove fatal to the nature both of the text and the music.

 

   More extensive notes, including detailed instructions on the singers, dancers and orchestra, are included in the full score.
 
  

above: photograph by the composer of gardens at Muckross House, Ireland

 

 

A great mysterious garden shrouded in many shadows. It is dusk: deep, silent dusk. To the left, a great holm oak, deep myrtle green, soars into the sky. Towards the right a sundial, with a rose tree behind it. On the extreme right, the walls of the house whence opens a large window. Another rose tree stands towards the left, under the shadow of the holm; but the largest and most mysterious rose tree lies across the back of the stage like a great spreading portent of ill fate. On the grass beneath the holm oak the Student is discerned, lying with his head in his hands so that it seems that he sleeps; but then he stirs, and his eyes fill with tears

The STUDENT   She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses; but in all my garden there is no red rose. No red rose in all my garden! Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine; yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.

The NIGHTINGALE [from her nest in the holm, wonderingly to herself] Here, at last, is the true lover! Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not; night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him. His hair is dark as the hyacinth, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her mark upon his brow.

The STUDENT   The Prince gives a ball tomorrow night, and my love will be of the company. If I bring her a red rose, she will dance with me till dawn. If I bring her a red rose, then I will hold her in my arms, and she will lean her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be clasped in mine. But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by. She will have no heed of me, and my heart shall break.

The NIGHTINGALE   Here, indeed, is the true lover! What I sing, he suffers; what to me is joy, to him is pain. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals, Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market place. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor is it weighted out in the balance for gold.

The STUDENT   The musicians will sit in their balcony, and play upon their stringed instruments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin. She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng about her. But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her!

The GREEN LIZARD   Why is he crying?

The BUTTERFLY   Why indeed?

The DAISY   Why indeed?

The NIGHTINGALE   He is weeping for a red rose.

The GREEN LIZARD, The BUTTERFLY and the DAISY   For a red rose? How very ridiculous!

The GREEN LIZARD   Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!

The Student has slowly subsided weeping upon the grass once more, and remains still. Night begins to fall ever more deeply over the garden. The Nightingale spreads her wings and  flies forth from the holm over the garden, lighting upon the tree beneath the oak

The NIGHTINGALE   Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.

The WHITE ROSE TREE  My roses are white, as white as the foam of the sea, and whiter than the snow upon the mountain. But go to my brother who grows round the old sundial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.

So the Nightingale flies to the rose that grows by the sundial

The NIGHTINGALE   Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.

The YELLOW ROSE TREE   My roses are yellow, as yellow as the hair of the mermaid as she sits upon an amber throne, and yellower than the daffodil that blooms in the meadow before the mower comes with his scythe. But go to my brother who grows beneath the Student’s window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.

So the Nightingale flies to the great tree: the grey, mysterious and ominous tree beneath the window of the house at the back of the stage

The NIGHTINGALE   Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.

The RED ROSE TREE  My roses are red, as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great corals that wave and wave in the ocean cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.

The NIGHTINGALE   One rose is all I want, one red rose! Is there no way by which I can get it?

The RED ROSE TREE   There is a way; but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.

The NIGHTINGALE   Tell it to me; I am not afraid.

The RED ROSE TREE   If you want a red rose, you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and your life-blood will flow into my veins, and become mine.

The NIGHTINGALE   Death is a great price to pay for a red rose; and Life is very sweet to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the sun in his chariot of gold, and the moon in her chariot of pearl. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is greater than Life, and what is heart of a nightingale compared to the heart of a man?

She flies soaring into the air, and sweeps over the garden like a shadow. When she reaches the oak, she stands high above the Student

Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose.  I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s blood. All that I ask is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though he is wise; and mightier than Power, though he is mighty. Flame-coloured are his wings, and coloured like flame is his body. His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankincense.

The STUDENT [looks uncomprehendingly up into the branches] She has form, that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks only of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good!

He has risen and walked slowly towards the house, and now he goes in. Silence descends upon the night and upon the garden

VOICES in the TREES   The Moon shines ever more brightly in the Heavens; and the Nightingale flies to the Rose Tree, and sets her breast against the thorn; and the cold crystal stars lean down and listen. And she sings first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl.

A vision appears in the centre of the garden: a naked youth and maiden who walk through the garden with graceful movements. Tenderly they embrace one another with tentative movements, then more passionate embraces: they slowly disappear into the darkness once more

And slowly a rose begins to blossom; pale at first, as the mist that hangs over the river, pale as the wings of the morning, and silver as the feet of the dawn, pale as the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, as the shadow of the rose upon a water pool.

The RED ROSE TREE   Press closer, little Nightingale! or the Day will come before the Rose is finished.

VOICES in the TREES   And so the Nightingale presses closer against the thorn, and her song grows louder as she sings of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and maid.

The two ideal lovers appear once again, embracing tenderly as before, and once more vanish into the night

And a flush of pink comes into the leaves of the rose, like the flush on the face of the Bridegroom when he kisses the lips of the Bride.

The RED ROSE TREE   Press closer, little Nightingale! or the Day will come before the Rose is finished.

VOICES in the TREES   And so the Nightingale presses closer against the thorn, and the thorn touches her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shoots through her. Bitter, bitter is the pain, and wilder, wilder grows her song, for the sings of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

The ideal lovers again appear; this time the man supports the woman with his arm. A red light falls on the scene; the woman falls into the man’s arms. He bears her to the ground, and there lies with her

And the rose becomes crimson, like the rose of the crimson sky, like the ruby crimson of the heart.

Red light floods the scene, tinting the rose crimson; the two lovers appear to sink into the earth

But the Nightingale’s voice grows fainter, and her wings begin to beat, and a film comes over her eyes. Fainter and fainter grows her song, as it were something choking her in the throat. Then she gives one last burst of music. [Increasing moonlight] The white Moon heareth it, and she forgets the dawn, and lingers on in the sky. The red rose heareth it, and it trembles all over with ecstasy, and opens its petals to the cold morning air. Echo beareth it to the purple caverns in the hills, and wakes the sleeping shepherds from their dreams. It floateth through the reeds of the river, and they bear its message to the sea.

The RED ROSE TREE   Look! look! the rose is finished now!

   The Nightingale falls to the ground

VOICES in the TREES   But the Nightingale lies dead in the long grass, and the thorn is in her heart.

Stillness and darkness envelop the scene. Day begins to dawn. The sun rises. The morning light shines into the garden, illuminating all with a silver radiance. And the rose too seems to glow, shedding forth a light of its own

The STUDENT [opens his window] Why, what a wonderful piece of luck! Here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in my life! It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name.

He comes forth from the house, and steps down to the rose; and reverently he plucks it. The Beloved enters the garden

You said that you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose! Here is the reddest rose in all the world. You will wear it tonight next your heart, and as we dance together it will tell you how I love you.

The BELOVED [frowns] I am afraid it will not go with my dress. And besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.

The STUDENT   Well, upon my soul, you are very ungrateful!

And he throws the rose down upon the ground, quite faded and its radiance extinguished

The BELOVED   Ungrateful! I tell you what, you are very rude; and after all, who are you? Only a student. Why, I don’t believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain’s nephew has!

She turns on him in fury, and stamps viciously on the rose, grinding it into the dust with her heel. Then she turns her back on him and strides rapidly out. The Student stands stock still, as if turned to stone. There is a long silence

The STUDENT   What a silly thing Love is! It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and as in this age to be practical is everything I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.

He returns back into the house. The garden glows in the daylight: but the rose has quite faded, and the Nightingale is invisible in the grass

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