Songs of Travel

by Matthew Whittall

for mixed choir

Empty sheet

Matthew Whittall

Songs of Travel


collaboration with conductor George Parris began when I heard his
recording with the Carice Singers of Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell,
and remarked to him that I’d always wanted to write a large-scale choral
song cycle in English along those lines. Having rediscovered Robert
Louis Stevenson’s Songs of Travel at a very low point in 2018, I thought
they would be the ideal basis for such a venture, perhaps even a
companion piece to Parry’s. The poems’ pervasive tone of loss and
rootlessness, far from being depressing, were somehow a great comfort.
Amid the isolation of 2020, they acquired a new urgency for me, and once
again became a vehicle for healing. The shape and main ideas for the
piece formed in large part on an extended hike in the perpetual light of
Finnish Lapland that summer, a trek during which grief would move
slowly toward acceptance.

The cycle is anchored at each end by two expansive songs, for which I
adapted the poetry in small ways to make it more personal, with minor
deletions where the musical setting demanded it. The opening song, Home
no more home, presents a simple, ambiguously modal tune at the outset,
before sending out tendrils in searching, halting rhythms, a slow,
reluctant tread off into the hills, clouded by memory. The middle three
songs are brighter in tone, attempting to find solace in a variety of
places – in the land, in the firmament, on the sea – but all ultimately
turn reflectively inward. In the highlands touches on a number of folk
traditions, including bagpipe-like strains and a Swedish herding call
known as kulning. The infinite shining heavens is a rapt, glowing
meditation on the night sky. Give me the sun is an original setting of
Stevenson’s lyrics for the popular Skye Boat Song, with fragments of the
original tune ghosted here and there throughout the texture. The final
movement, Evensong, combines three poems on the theme of leave-taking.
Here the tone of melancholy becomes one of gentle resignation, not to an
ending, but an acceptance of suffering, and of transience.

- Matthew Whittall




Vocal and Choral Works




Robert Louis Stevenson


The Carice Singers, George Parris, cond. Cheltenham Festivals, July 3, 2021, Cheltenham, England


1. Home no more home, 2. In the highlands, 3. The infinite shining heavens, 4. Give me the sun, 5. Evensong

Commisioned by / dedications

Jointly commissioned by the Carice Singers and Spira Ensemble. Dedicated to George Parris.

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