The Sun of Umbria

Concert Programme

Saturday, 9 November 2013, 7.30 pm
Scots Memorial Church, Hobart

 

The Sun of Umbria

Favourite French miniatures:    
La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin Claude-Achille Debussy Strings*
Syrinx Claude-Achille Debussy Flute
Minuet— Le Tombeau de Couperin Maurice Ravel Strings*
Dance de la Chèvre Arthur Honegger Flute
Le Cygne—Le Carnaval des Animaux Camille Saint-Saëns Wind, strings, percussion*
Nyctanthe du Malabar Jean Françaix Wind &  strings
Pavane pour une infante défunte Maurice Ravel Strings*
Golliwog’s  Cakewalk Claude-Achille Debussy Wind, strings, percussion*
           *(arranged RM)
New cantata,
celebrating St Francis of Assisi:
   
The Sun of Umbria Lyrics: Clive Sansom Music: Ralph Middenway

       

Soprano: Helen Thomson (Woman)  Tenor: Nicholas King (St Francis)  Baritone: Jamie Allen (Man)
Choir Loose Canon:
Sopranos: Chris Coombe, Stephanie McDonald, Stephanie Melitsis, Meg Scanlan, Yasmin Shoobridge
Altos: Sue Harradence Caroline Miller Sue Morton Gill von Bertouch Liz Wilson
Tenors: Helen Chick, Michael Kregor, Tony Marshall, David Pitt
Basses: John Ballard, Peter Fawcett, Duncan How, Philip Sabine

Flute/piccolo/alto Maddi Ahrens    Oboe/cor anglais Alan Greenlees   
Vibraphone/marimba/bells Matthew Chilmaid
Violins Xinyu Goa, Christine Akerman, Anita Schleebs, Rachel Walters
Viola Nara Dennis Cello Greg Woodward; Bass Monty Wain

Musical Director    Gary Wain


The composer is most grateful to the performers for their participation and generous encouragement;
to the Tasmanian Conservatorium for its significant financial contribution;
and to Brian Paine, former ABC radio producer, who introduced him to the work of Clive Sansom.

Lyrics—selected from
Francis of Assisi, The Sun of Umbria
© Clive Sansom (1910–1981), Cat and Fiddle Press (Hobart, 1981)


1.1—Prelude: The City

People:
This is the city of St Francis:
Here are the terraces he walked, The walls he touched, the world he lived in.
There’s not a pebble on this hill That does not speak of him …
Men:
Not only bells That tell of him, that toll for him, Swinging across the sunlit plain His notes of praise …
Women:
Nor yet the swallows That dawn to evening, Spring to Fall, Stitch the clear sky with flight
And sing, sing their insistent joy …
People:
Not only these are his. His spirit is everywhere. He is Assisi. He is the air we breathe.

People:
Here, where the sloping mountain falls most gently, There rose a new Sun.


1.2—Link (RM)

Woman:
People say Francis was Born in a stable.
Man:
Born in a stable? Fact or fable?

1.3—The Stable

The Ass said,
Woman:
‘I remember: It has all happened before—The girl, the shaded lantern,The crib on the dark [earth] floor;
This hay, smelling of summer, That lurching sack of corn,

Where among the moving shadows A little god was born.’

Said the Ox,
Man:
‘That far December,

Three mighty emperors came—Two with crowns of emerald, One with a cloak of flame.
They brought their gifts by starlight, Knelt by that tiny one;
To the music of hooves and bridles They rode to the rising sun.’

Woman & Man:
Then Ass and Ox together: ‘No kings have come tonight;
Woman:
Not even humble shepherds Kneel in the dancing light.
Man:
This is no god who lies here To work some holy plan:
Woman & Man:
Only a saint, a little saint, Poised between God and man.’

1.4—Link (RM)

Woman:
Women knew Francis as Lord of the Dance.
Man:
His cronies knew him as Prince Bernadone.

1.5—Prince Bernadone

People:
When, in the evening, Shadows fall,
And friend and neighbour Seizing lute and tabor
Race to the meadows Beyond the wall—
Then comes Francis To lead the dances,
Lightest and swiftest, The gayest of all.

Woman & Man
Then to the Banquet They bring their song.
With many a crony Laughs `Prince Bernadone’,
The King of Folly Who rules this throng,
Feasting and drinking, Bright, unwinking,
By torchlight and candle The wild night long—

People:
Until, in the morning When dark is done,
When the torches’ smoking Sets an end to their joking,
When guests are leaving One by one
And voices cease, he Surrenders Assisi
To the dazzling, towering, Exultant Sun!


1.6—The Other Francis

Man:
But sometimes he escapes the city Into fields and olive-groves That shine with dew.
Woman:
Here violets Grow from the tangled vine-roots;
Man:
Clusters of blue grape-hyacinths Rise by his path;
Woman:
and curving swallows Cry sisi! si! Assisi!

Man:
He is one with the swallows in their wild swooping;
Woman:
One with the dew-pearl poised On the hyacinth-globe
Man:
one also With the sun that takes it.

Woman:
The breeze of morning Is the pulse of his own breathing.
Woman & Man:
All, All these—Earth and Sky, And the creatures of earth and sky—all Are the writings of God.
Their life is His: His seal is stamped upon all.


2.1—That Sun of Umbria

Francis:
That sun of Umbria, That cobalt sky
Where whistling swallows In their hundreds fly,
No longer touch the heart They touched before:
What once delighted me Delights no more.

Those trees that laced the sky When boughs were bare
Now lift white branches To the blossoming air.
I see their beauty, but Can Time restore
What once delighted me And comes no more?

Not even Woman now Can move my heart.
For all those thousand charms Of artless art
That blood can answer And the mind adore,
What once delighted me Delights no more.

The earth is dead to me—Or I am dead;
Nothing contents the eye Now Joy has fled.
Though all past memories Of my life implore,
Love has deserted me: She comes no more.

2.2—The Banquet in the Orchard

People:
Assisi’s grey-pink walls are flushed, alive with the colour of rose.
Roofs, campaniles, apple-trees, cypress: Umbria drifts into night.

Guests arrive with lutes and lanterns. Francis, their host for the evening,
Moves among them like a prince. Servants offer wine-cups.

Vivid young girls under the vine-leaves: Their eyes bright in the filtered flare light
‘Francis!’ they call, ‘A song, a song!’ He takes his lute, and sings:

  Francis:
O love is like a lute-song Of rapture and despair;
Tender, poignant, beautiful, It fades along the air.

People:
Drinking, feasting, wooing, dancing, A world apart, of gaiety and leaf-light.
And then a cry: ‘Lead us, Francis! Be our Lord of Love!’

Radiant, laughing, lute on shoulder, He opens a gate into the darkness.
Others follow, catching at lanterns. Slowly the orchard sleeps …

  Francis:
O love is like a garden Where many a fragrant flower,
Budding, breaking, blossoming, Must wither in the hour.

People:
Far off the lonely Watchman’s bell, Mingles with voices, lutes and mandols.
Closer, behind the singer’s head, A fountain splashes. Listen!

  Francis:
O love is like a springtime, A season of green leaves.
Swiftly, sadly, silently, The autumn heart grieves.

People:
The music stops. ‘What is it, Francis?’
Fingers tense on silent strings,
He stands arrested, figure of legend … ‘Are you in love? A woman?’

  Francis:
The most beautiful woman in all the world.’

Man & Woman:
‘Her name, Francis! Tell us her name!’

  Francis:
‘Poverty. Her name is Poverty.’

People:
Lanterns go. Voices go. Francis leans, his lute forgotten.
The fountain splashes. Listen!

2.3—Link (RM)

Woman:
Francis wandered From door to door,
Helping, caring, Loving the poor.

2.4—The Leper Speaks

Man:
Mad?—yes, but he cares—he cares.
I live on the rim of mankind, beyond the eyes That tell men’s loathing.
They measure distance By the sound of my clappers, Throw me food or coins,
Hating me, wishing disease were swift, for I Am the self they despise, their cringing conscience.

But he comes—fearless—into that round of death That rings me always like the flame of a torch.
He takes me in his arms as a friend, a brother. He does not pity me, he does not speak:
Mad?—yes, but he cares—he cares.

2.5—Freedom

Francis:
Now is the burden lifted, Now is my heart free
To grow in the Spring sunlight Like a flower or a tree.

No: greater is her freedom, More happily she grows
Than any tree in summer Or any flower that blows.

For flower or tree has roots, It blossoms where it stands;
But the free heart may wander Wherever Love commands.

So, like a lark in April, She grows, not roots but wings;
She takes her flight to Heaven, And as she climbs, she sings!

O Lord of trees and flowers, Who caused the sun to shine,
Thou art my heart’s freedom, Her only bonds are thine.

3.1—Link (RM)

Woman:
Francis was inspired by Nature: Earth, air, fire, water, And every creature.
Man:
He wrote and sang this canticle Of faith and love and celebration Of all creation.

3.2—The Canticle of Brother Sun

  Francis:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for all Creation:

Man:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sir Brother Sun, Who brings the day, By whom you send your light.
Men:
Magnificent is he, bright and resplendent, Made in the likeness of you, O Lord most high.

Woman:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sister Moon;

Women:
for Stars That shine in the heavens, rare, sparkling and lovely.

Man:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for Brother Wind;

Men:
For air, cloud, sky, and every weather That carries life from you to all your creatures.

Woman:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sister Water:
Women:
She serves most humbly, she is so precious and pure.

Men:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for Brother Fire By whom the night is lit;
He is so fierce and gay, filled with such power and beauty.

Women:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for Mother Earth¬
Our sister who feeds and Preserves us, bringing forth
Her many fruits, her coloured flowers and herbs.

Tutti:
Praise be to you, my Lord, for all who in your name Forgive: who suffer trial and sickness.
Blessed are those who endure it with peaceful heart; Most High, they shall be crowned by you.
Praise our Lord: thank him and worship him, Serve him most humbly all your days.

4.1—Link (RM)

Man:
Francis, worn out, ill and blind, Caring, loving, sharing, dying, Finds Assisi in his mind.

4.2—Farewell to Assisi

Francis:
Assisi, my good city, my beautiful city, Never again shall I see you flooded in sunlight;
These eyes are dead, their windows shuttered from the sun.
But in my mind I see you. I see your houses, White by day, rose-washed at evening,
Circling your hill in vineyard terraces; the towers That leap for the light; the gated walls,
The ruined fortress at the peak. I see you all—I love you all. I cannot tell such love,
But in my heart, I send this last farewell.

4.3—Sister Clare

Woman:
I was a flower he planted in the garden of Poverty: I grew in the warmth of his love.
His were the firm hands that spread my roots, His face was the Sun above.

In courage and strength of purpose he was a falcon, In gentleness a dove.
Fear of convention would not kill his kindness: I think he feared our love¬.

And so he left us. Poverty, God and Memory Came to supply our need.
They have sufficed, Francis. You planted well. The flower is true to the seed.

4.4—Postlude: 'Now is my heart free …’

Tutti:
Now is the burden lifted, Now is my heart free
To grow in the Spring sunlight Like a flower or a tree.

No: greater is her freedom, More happily she grows
Than any tree in summer Or any flower that blows.

For flower or tree has roots, It blossoms where it stands;
But the free heart may wander Wherever Love commands.

So, like a lark in April, She grows, not roots but wings;
She takes her flight to Heaven, And as she climbs, she sings!

O Lord of trees and flowers, Who caused the sun to shine,
Thou art my heart’s freedom, Her only bonds are thine.



The Sun of Umbria

Umbria is a small, sparsely populated Italian region near Rome. Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone, (1181–1226) was born and spent much of his life in Assisi, Umbria, a little city alive with bells and birds. His father Pietro nicknamed the boy Francesco (‘Frenchman’—his mother was a French aristocrat). St Clare (1194–1253, born Chiara Offreduccio) was a friend and follower of St Francis and, as Sister Clare, co-founder with him of what became the Order of St Clare. Francis died in Assisi, perhaps from a form of leprosy, as witness his blindness. He was much loved; Dante later described him as a ‘Second Sun’.

The poems of the Hobart Quaker, poet, educator & broadcaster, Clive Sansom, include a free translation of Francis’s Canticle of Brother Sun, written in his native Umbrian dialect.

 

Helen Thomson is singer, conductor & composer, with 18 years’ international experience; last year she sang in Carl Rutti’s Requiem, along with the small and adventurous Hobart choir Loose Canon. Gary Wain, conductor, composer & TSO principal  percussionist, directed it. He also directed Scott McIntyre’s Fire in the Snow, with Jamie Allen, for many years a soloist with Opera Australia.

Also last year, Nicholas King, singer & communications consultant, sang the title role of Daniel, using  Ralph Middenway’s new performing edition of the Play of Daniel. Middenway, composer & editor, worked in Adelaide as a senior university and public administrator, composer, music/opera critic & theatre consultant, before going bush. After twenty years as a flower farmer, he and his wife moved to Hobart in 2008.

The cantata is part of a folio of new compositions towards a UTas PhD degree.