“How many things by season season’d are/ To their right praise and true perfection!” sings the alto soloist to at the climax of Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, the piece that will end our summer programme at Christ Church, Chichester on July 6th that is devoted to times and seasons. They are lines spoken by Portia in the final scene of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, part of a discussion between the characters about the ‘music of the spheres’, the Pythagorean concept of the motion and proportions of the solar system as a form of music, music that is best sensed when the time is right in the “soft stillness” of the night. The composer applied some of his best harmonic and melodic invention to the portrayal of this ideal setting. 

For times are also tunes and they are abundant in this programme, starting with three favourite. ‘seasonal’ madrigals by Weelkes and Morley and Elgar’s As torrents in summer.

Time – as pulse, pace, duration, rhythm, cycles, clocks and calendars, tread, bells, transience and transformation – finds expression in Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year in the form of a dialogue between the seasons of the year and the human lifecycle. Dove’s music is direct and highly approachable, sustained by layers of rhythmic pulses and short, memorable tunes to words by Blake, Dickinson and Tennyson.

The first half ends with the buzz of time imagined by Frank Bridge from the point of view of The Bee.

John Rutter described his Five Childhood Lyrics as “a kind of ‘homage’ to the world of children”, rhymes and verses remembered from his earliest years, tunes easily learned that say prayers, tell fortunes or repeat nonsense.

Mendelssohn’s 6 Lieder, op. 59, subtitled Im Freien zu singen (To be sung outdoors) take us via the poetry of Goethe, Eichendorff, Chézy and Uhland, to the heart of the Romantic preoccupation with the self at one with time and Nature, a liberating philosophy tempered by an acute awareness of the unattainable. For instance, if there were such a thing as a vale of peace (Ruhetal) it would only be found among the mountainous shapes of the clouds. Key to our programme, Goethe’s Nightingale contains a simple message, almost like a nursery rhyme: “The nightingale was far away/ The Spring has called her back/ She didn’t learn anything new/ She sings the old, dear songs”. Dear old songs to us, one of the joys of Spring, but for the nightingale just a way to attract a mate.

Swept along as if by chance through a world indifferent to our cherished selves, no wonder that we feel the constant urge to venture outdoors to reminisce and ruminate at sunset or seek beautiful expressions of cyclical continuity in poetry and music.

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