Chronos Suite on Themes of Purcell
for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra
Princeton University Glee Club and Chamber Choir
Gabriel Crouch, conductor
Recorded December 5, 2015
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University
Commissioned by Princeton University and dedicated
to the 2015-2016 Princeton Glee Club; Gabriel Crouch, director
My Chronos Suite on Themes of Purcell is a work inspired in no small part by the artistic offerings of some of the greatest British artists of all time. The work was commissioned by Gabriel Crouch for Princeton University and the Princeton University Glee Club. and the texts were chosen carefully under his guidance and consultation. I dedicate the work fondly to him and to his able and intelligent singers.
The three poems in question are all meditations on time in all of its manifestations, but most particularly on the phenomenon of aging. How does our perception of life change as we near death? Is there some afterlife or some higher power to whom we can call as that moment of breathlessness approaches?
Milton’s poem is one of realization and eventual peacefulness; whether our time on earth is “less or more, or soon or slow, it shall be in strictest measure even to that same lot … toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven”.
Herbert’s words come with a taste of the satirical, as he ponders how “e’en pleasures here increase the wrong, and length of dayes lengthen the rod”. His final quip is set simply in the chorus: “What do I hear before the doore? He doth not crave lesse time, but more.”
Raleigh’s text is beautifully symmetrical, with words recurring but in different guises on each line: “earth, and grave, and dust” is the eventual Ithaca of our bodies, from which the author asks God to deliver us.
All of this is made Baroque with themes and forms and key structures from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. While there is also plenty of original music used to wed the text and these ancient sounds, Purcell’s music predominates. The orchestra in question is a simple one of oboe, harpsichord, and strings. I have chosen to add a handheld woodblock, played occasionally by an overeager soprano from the chorus. It serves to remind us of time’s ever-constant march forward, whether that time is measured in the black dots of musical note-heads or the ephemeral solitude of our every breath.
I. JOHN MILTON
How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stoln on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on wtih full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Taskmaster's eye
II. GEORGE HERBERT
And this is that makes life so long,
While it detains us from our God.
Ev’n pleasures here increase the wrong,
And length of dayes lengthen the rod.
Who wants the place, where God doth dwell,
Partakes already half of hell.
Of what strange length must that needs be,
Which ev’n eternitie excludes!
Thus farre Time heard me patiently:
Then chafing said, This man deludes:
What do I here before his doore?
He doth not crave lesse time, but more.
III. WALTER RALEIGH
Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days,
And from which earth, and grave, and dust
The Lord will raise me up, I trust.