Love Songs by my great, great grandfather, Sir Arthur Somervell

Sir Arthur Somervell
My great, great grandfather, Sir Arthur Somervell

It just so happens that my great, great grandfather, Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) was an English Romantic composer who was apparently, according to Wikipedia, ‘after Hubert Parry one of the most successful and influential writers of art song in the English music renaissance of the 1890s-1900s’. This is an extraordinary coincidence, considering my strong interest in what I see as The Great Mystery of Human Love. Among many other compositions and arrangements on other themes, Sir Arthur arranged, wrote lyrics for, and composed a number of different musical items on the topic of human romance and love which I shall briefly explore below.

Silent Worship

His most famous item was his arrangement of Handel’s Silent Worship for which he wrote all of the lyrics. This arrangement was sang by Emma (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) and Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor) in ITV‘s 1996 television series of Jane Austen’s Emma. I have embedded a YouTube clip of this below (skip to 0:11 if you just want to listen to the performance of the duet itself):

There is a two-voice, harmonic version of the piece which can be heard below:

However, my favourite version of this arrangement is the below one which was first released on 12th June 2017:

The lyrics, which are, in my opinion, an excellent, vivid and accurate description of unrequited love, are as follows:

Did you not hear My Lady
Go down the garden singing
Blackbird and thrush were silent
To hear the alleys ringing.

Oh saw you not My Lady
Out in the garden there
Shaming the rose and lily
For she is twice as fair.

Though I am nothing to her
Though she must rarely look at me
And though I could never woo her
I love her till I die.

Surely you heard My Lady
Go down the garden singing
Silencing all the songbirds
And setting the alleys ringing.

But surely you see My Lady
Out in the garden there
Rivaling the glittering sunshine
With a glory of golden hair.’

(Sir Arthur Somervell’s lyrics for Handel’s “Silent Worship)

Young Love Lies Sleeping

Another piece that Sir Arthur composed is called Love in Springtime: Young Love Lies Sleeping. The lyrics were written in 1863 by Christina Georgina Rossetti but Sir Arthur composed the music for it. Here is a version sung by soprano singer Sarah Leonard with the piano being played by Malcolm Martineau:

The lyrics for this piece are as follows:

Young Love lies sleeping

In May-time of the year,

Among the lilies,

Lapped in [the]1 tender light:

White lambs come grazing,

White doves come building there;

And round about him

The May-bushes are white.

 

Soft moss the pillow

For oh, a softer cheek;

Broad leaves cast shadow

Upon the heavy eyes:

There winds and waters

Grow lulled and scarcely speak;

There twilight lingers

The longest in the skies.

 

Young Love lies dreaming;

But who [shall]2 tell the dream?

A perfect sunlight

On rustling forest tips;

Or perfect moonlight

Upon a rippling stream;

Or perfect silence,

Or [song]3 of cherished lips.

 

Burn odours round him To fill the drowsy air;

Weave silent dances

Around him to and fro;

For oh, in waking

The sights are not so fair,

And song and silence

Are not like these below.

 

Young Love lies dreaming

Till summer days are gone,-

Dreaming and drowsing

Away to perfect sleep:

He sees the beauty

Sun hath not looked upon,

And tastes the fountain

Unutterably deep.

 

Him perfect music

Doth hush unto his rest,

And thro’ the pauses

The perfect silence calms:

Oh poor the voices

Of earth from east to west,

And poor earth’s stillness

Between her stately palms.

 

Young Love lies drowsing

Away to poppied death;

Cool shadows deepen

Across the sleeping face:

So fails the summer

With warm, delicious breath;

And what hath autumn

To give us in its place?

 

Draw close the curtains

Of branched evergreen;

Change cannot touch them

With fading fingers sere:

Here the first violets

Perhaps will bud unseen,

And a dove, may be,

Return to nestle here.’


A. Somervell sets stanzas 1, 3, 8

1 omitted by Somervell.
2 Somervell: “can”
3 Somervell: “songs”
Somervell’s setting ends with the following repetition of earlier lines:

Young Love lies sleeping,

And round about him

The May bushes are white.

(The above is quoted from the webpage entitled “Young Love Lies Sleeping” on “The LiederNet Archive” website)

The Romance of the Ball

I just found out that Sir Arthur also composed The Romance of the Ball: Seven Characteristic Pieces for the Pianoforte which can be purchased here but which I cannot anywhere seem to find a performance or recording of.

By Ben Somervell

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, you might be interested in the following articles which I have also written on love:

(1) The Great Mystery of Human Love

(2) My Favourite Quotations about Love

(3) Love’s Powers of Self-Discovery and Self-Transformation

(4) Reading List on Love

(5) Is Love really blind?

(6) The Concept of “The One” in Song of Songs

(7) Is unrequited love “the infinite curse of a lonely heart”?

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