At our July concert in Southsea we will be performing the world premiere of “Stream of Life”, a work for unaccompanied choir, comprising five poems of Rabindranath Tagore set to music by Hampshire based composer Ian Schofield. We will also perform it at our October concert in Petersfield. It is now available as a download and on CD.
Though virtually unknown in the west, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was prolific as a poet, playwright, philosopher, composer and writer on political and social issues. He was native of Calcutta, India, who wrote in Bengali and often translated his own work into English. He was the first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore broke barriers in Bengali art, poetry and drama, ushering in a new era. He stood up for freedom; he stood up for India. Ghandi and Nehru were his friends: he also had meetings with Einstein. His poetry transcends generations and social barriers, weaving together the beautiful and powerful tapestry of Indian culture.
Our MD Peter Gambie writes: “When I was a music student at Dartington, the influence of Rabindranath Tagore was pervasive. His philosophy ran deeply amongst the students as many of us espoused his beliefs in the cyclical nature of birth, life and death, with love at the centre. For Tagore, death was a beginning of a new phase of existence. When the choir decided to commission a composition to celebrate its 40th anniversary, I suggested Tagore’s poetry and that Ian Schofield should be asked to set it to music.”
Please scroll down to read these beautiful poems.
Ian and Peter are friends and have collaborated in the past, most notably when Peter made a successful bid to the BBC for a Community Arts Award. The result was a commission to Ian for a musical drama (“Freedom”) which is based on slavery.
Ian Schofield writes: “This commission was certainly a challenge! The texts are of great beauty, but their frequent changes of mood and irregularity of metre, both within and between verses provides a considerable challenge to any composer and I hope that my setting does them the justice that they deserve. I have used four of the five poems chosen by Peter and these make up the first four numbers of the sequence. For the fifth number, ‘Light, my light’, I have taken the opening lines from Tagore’s poem of the same name, and to that, I have created a narrative, utilising references to ‘light’ taken from other texts by him.”
1. My Song
This song of mine will wind its music around you, my child, like the fond arms of love.
This song of mine will touch your forehead like a kiss of blessing.
When you are alone it will sit by your side and whisper in your ear, when you are in the crowd it will fence you about with aloofness.
My song will be like a pair of wings to your dreams, it will transport your heart to the verge of the unknown.
It will be like the faithful star overhead when dark night is over your road.
My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes, and will carry your sight into the heart of things.
And when my voice is silent in death, my song will speak in your living heart.
2. Little Flute
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life. This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.
3. Stream Of Life
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
4. Peace, My Heart
Peace, my heart, let the time for parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.
5. Light, my light
Light, my light, the world-filling light,
the earth-kissing light, heart sweetening light.
Light in my heart the evening star of rest and let the night whisper to me of love.
Light, my light, etc.
Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
Some day I shall sing to thee in the sunrise of some other world, I have seen thee before in the light of the earth, in the love of man.
Death is not extinguishing the light, it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
Some day I shall sing to thee.
Light, my light, etc.
Read about Ian on the Music in Portsmouth Noticeboard (March 2020).
Ian Schofield was born in the Lancashire town of Oswaldtwistle in 1949. He studied Composition at the University of Southampton under Dr. Eric Graebner and Prof. Peter Evans. He has lived and taught in Portsmouth since 1972 and was, until retirement, a lecturer on the specialist pre-professional music course at South Downs College.
His Te Deum, commissioned by Jonathan Willcocks and the Portsmouth Choral Union, has been performed widely in the UK. The Christmas sequence Illuminare Jerusalem has had numerous performances throughout Great Britain, including the Royal Albert Hall – as well as performances and a broadcast by choirs in the USA. Recent compositions include a concerto for Violin and Viola that was premiered in London in November 2012. A setting of the Stabat Mater text received its first performance in 2015 by Guildford Choral Society. He has recently completed a Sinfonietta based upon the melody L’Homme Armé and is currently working on a concerto for cello and string orchestra.
In addition to composition and lecturing, Ian also works as a freelance music editor, where he specialises in Renaissance and Baroque choral music, and 19th century Italian choral and operatic works. He has prepared performances of editions of works by Rossini and Donizetti, as well as lesser-known composers such as Mayr, Mercadante, Pacini and Lillo. His editions have been used in London concert halls, on BBC Radio 3 and, further afield, in Italy and Germany, as well as on Ireland’s National Radio, and notably on recordings by Opera Rara.