The title of this essay is spoken by Chaucer's lusty Wife of Bath, as quoted in "Squier Com Neer", the first song of Lovelife Dances. Lovelife Dances is a choral song cycle with clear continuity of tonality, gesture, and text. It contains 14 songs with 4-hand piano accompaniment, 12 for mixed chorus and one each for women's and men's chorus. As to its meaning, the Wife of Bath said it well, "if I speke after my fantasye, take it not a-grief: for myn entente nis but for to playe".
All of the texts are taken from English-language poetry, ranging from Geoffrey Chaucer to James Merrill. Taken all together, they give a playful summary of life's loves, though many of them seem chosen to illustrate life's loves' limits -- and its lessons.
Tonally, the work begins and ends in Eb major, though the introduction of an E natural passing tone in the very first measure of the tonic chord is a sign that the tonality will not be fully traditional. Nevertheless, the harmony is frequently very uncomplicated. Even some of the less conventional harmonies, like that early E natural, serve as structural markers. The first song, for example, begins in Eb and ends in E, following through on the premise of the first notes.
In addition to tonal building blocks echoing small fragments in larger scale, there are frequent long-reaching melodic frameworks that fill out the form of the work. Another example from the very beginning: there is a Bb in the second measure which is a musical suspension (a note held over from a previous chord). The suspended fourth, a Bb in an F chord, is frequent in jazz and here sets a melodic tension that is only completed by resolution to an A in the final note of the men's choral entry, the word "Love" in the Chaucerian phrase, "saye somwhat of love." This melodic resolution is dovetailed into a characteristic cadential figure, which modulates to the next tonal area. The cadential figure is then repeated at the end of the song. Such a combination is very typical of the entire work: small scale melodic and harmonic details lending over-reaching structure to a larger scale, and characteristic musical figures as structural markers. Also very typical is a brief introduction for piano, providing both a characteristic impression of the text to come and a set of melodic and harmonic building blocks used in the choral setting.
In the broadest outline, the tonal movement is Eb A Bb A Eb , with the central musical material (A Bb A, with texts "I Live in Love" through "Flow Forth, Abundant Tears") echoing all these: the chromatic premise of the Eb-E of the beginning; the first melodic framework (Bb suspended resolving to A); and the opening text "Squier, com neer and saye somwhat of love".
Each of the songs has a unique but for the most part simple structure: ABBA, AABB, ABACABA, AAAA, and so on, where the letters indicate distinct musical sections. The score makes use of very traditional cadential relationships (a dominant chord followed by a tonic chord in a tonal center) as sectional markers within a context of harmony that is sometimes much more complex.
The overall work has a Dickensian dramatic structure: beginning with a small bang, then a long wavy curve of a crescendo -- love and love as loss-of-love -- all the way through a significant part of the work (Skelton's "Mistress Anne, I Am Your Man", Sidney's "Ring Out Your Bells (for Love is Dead)", a brief rapprochement with "Who Is It That This Dark Night" and "I Live in Love", then growing despair with Wyatt's "My Lute Awake" and a reworking of text taken from William Barley's madrigal, "Flow Forth, Abundant Tears". In performance a break should come here, after #8, "Flow Forth, Abundant Tears".
Next follows a dramatic decrescendo through the women's chorus, the men's chorus, a dream, and a love-beyond-death vision with text taken from James Merrill's ouija board spirit-talk (from "The Changing Light at Sandover"). Incidentally, the only musical quote in the work comes just before this excursion into the afterlife, during the song "The Sleeping Beauty", where Wagner's chromatic Love-Death (Liebestod) motive is sung by the chorus.
With the final two songs of the cycle, we are back to life and lust. There is a rapid build up to the highest dramatic point, in the song "You Lovers", a setting of parts of John Donne's "Ode on St Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day of the Year". The shortest day, of course, in one of Donne's favorite rhetorical tricks, is also the turning point of the year, toward renewal, toward love again, and toward a re-opening of the vista of life. The flood of tears, like spring rains, provides the vital force for renewal, and the breakdown of text as set at the end of the Donne song prepares the way for some of the most nobly crafted words used in the cycle -- the final song "There Was a Time". This song is a metaphor in a metaphor, of "fountains, meadows, hills, and groves" posing our humanity as another natural splendor, not more but not less grand, and not less but also not more unchanging, than the glory of the earth. The text is made of excerpts from Wordsworth's extraordinary "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood".
Copyright 2003 Hartenshield Group Inc. This essay may be quoted in whole or in part if the following credit line is used.
From "Myn entente nis but for to playe" by William Copper, copyright 2003 The Hartenshield Group Inc.