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Brass quintet works

Fantastic Mind

Duration: 10 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Fantastic Mind amalgamates two passionate poems of longing by the 17th-century libertine poet, The Earl of Rochester. Although he is famous, if not infamous, for his erotic and saucy language, this side of Rochester is, I think, sometimes rather overstressed to the detriment of his many muscular but less overtly sexual poems; lines on death, for example.

The Mistress and A Song (or Absence), remind me, in their driven power, of Dylan Thomas as well as other metaphysical poets like Donne, Herbert, and Marvell. And so when I came to the word rave for instance, I was immediately reminded, almost sub-consciously, of Dylan Thomas Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and found myself repeating the verb as does Thomas.

The unusual metre of both poems and the dramatic stances of Rochester suggested the use of an actor speaking rather than a sung line. There are, too, many similarities between both pieces which seemed to allow the implanting of A Song into the body of The Mistress.
It struck me as absolutely natural to weld these lines to brass, given their ability to sound both overbearingly raunchy and exquisitely tender. Furthermore I have written for them in a direct, bald style with many parallel intervals as in music contemporaneous with Rochester himself.

Michael Berkeley

An age in her embraces past,
Would seem a winters day;
When life and light, with envious haste,
Are torn and snatched away.

But, oh how slowly minutes roll,
When absent from her eyes
That feed my love, which is my soul,
It languishes and dies.

For then no more a soul but shade,
It mournfully does move;
haunts my breast, by absence made
The living tomb of love.

Absent from thee I languish still
Then ask me not when I return?
The straying fool twill plainly kill,
To wish all day, all night to mourn.

Dear, from thine arms then let me fly,
That my fantastic mind may prove,
The torments it deserves to try,
That tears my fixed heart from my love.

When wearied with a world of woe,
To thy safe bosom I retire,
Where love and peace and truth does flow,
May I contented there expire.

Lest once more wandring from that heaven
I fall on some base heart unblessed;
Faithless to thee, false, unforgiven,
And lose my everlasting rest.

For then no more a soul but shade,
It mournfully does move;
and haunts my breast, by absence made
The living tomb of love.

You wiser men despise me not;
Whose love-sick fancy raves,
On shades of souls, and heaven knows what;
Short ages live in graves.

Wheneer those wounded eyes, so full
Of sweetness, you did see;
Had you not been profoundly dull,
You had gone mad like me.

Nor censure us, you who perceive
My best-beloved and me,
Sigh and lament, complain and grieve,
You think we disagree.

Alas! Tis sacred jealousy!
Love raised to an extreme;
The only proof twixt her and me,
We love, and do not dream.

Fantastic fancies fondly move,
And in frail joys believe:
Taking false pleasure for true love;
But pain can neer deceive.

Kind jealous doubts, tormenting fears.
And anxious cares, when past,
Prove our hearts treasure fixed and dear,
And make us blessed at last.

Text for Michael Berkeleys Fantastic Mind taken from The Mistress and Absent from thee I languish still - Earl of Rochester

Music from Chaucer

Duration: 12 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Audio samples:

  •     Music from Chaucer (1: Triton's Trumpets)

When Michael Berkeley wrote his Music from Chaucer it was in answer to a dual request: he had been commissioned by the BBC to write some incidental music for a radio version of Chaucer's dramatic work, and had also been invited by Philip Jones to write a quintet for his ensemble. The resulting work is in five movements of widely differing character. The first, Triton's Trumpets, which acts as an overture to the suite of pieces, is mainly rather rustic and, as its title implies, much of its music is in the nature of fanfares. The Grieving Queen is a haunting slow waltz, introduced by an anguished phrase from the horn. The Fanfare for the Huntsmen is very short and very vigorous. In the fourth movement, The Sorrowful Knight, each instrument expresses its individual sorrow, at first alone and then corporate in counterpoint. In the music for the final movement, The Wakeful Poet, Chaucer himself chatters in a jaunty, innocent style.