music at night

Music at Night

Year: 2017

Heading: for SATB chorus and orchestra

First Performance:
May 11, 2019
Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Kevin McMahon, conducting
Weill Center
Sheborygan, WI

Instrumentation: SATB Chorus, full orchestra

Duration: 12'

Text: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, The Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold.
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins.
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn.
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear
And draw her home with music.

I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is your spirits are attentive,
For do but note a wild and wanton herd
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music. Therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods,
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark
When neither is attended, and I think
The nightingale, if she should sing by day
When every goose is cackling, would be thought
No better a musician than the wren.
How many things by season seasoned are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion
And would not be awaked.

Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Program Note:

In 1994, I wrote incidental music for the New York Public Theater’s production of Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare makes one of his most direct statements about music in the first scene of Act V, when the young lovers Lorenzo and Jessica sit under the moon declaring their love. Looking up, Lorenzo speaks of the music of the spheres, and that anyone who is not moved by music is “fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils” —in other words, the worse cruelties.

Vaughn Williams was drawn to these beautiful, potent words when he composed his “Serenade to Music,” which, I was told, was originally intended to be performed to celebrate the Sheboygan Symphony’s 100th anniversary season. Since I believe Shakespeare speaks to all ages, I thought it might be interesting to compose a new piece using this same immortal poetry. I strove to use the chorus, along with the orchestra, in such a way to reflect the “concord of sounds” that the young lovers discuss.

I would like to thank the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra and its music director Kevin McMahon for giving me the opportunity to help celebrate this orchestra’s 100 year birthday.