Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Silent Noon by Ralph Vaughan Williams

A very brief analysis of Silent Noon by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Silent Noon by Ralph Vaughan Williams is a musical interpretation of the sonnet of the same name by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The sonnet is reproduced below. It describes a quiet time spent by two lovers in a field in the countryside on a summer’s day.

The piece begins with a brief piano introduction. The piano is the only musical instrument used throughout. There are three beats to the bar though the composer uses syncopation (one and, two, and three) which creates a sense of movement - necessary in the earlier part of the piece (lines one to four of the sonnet) where a simple repeating chord pattern is used. Syncopation may also have been felt necessary by the composer to compensate for the fact that sonnets were spoken rather than sung pieces and therefore don’t have the rhyming structure that song lyrics would have.

The solo male voice dominates much of the piece while the timbre of the piano is at times distant as if it is being played somewhere farther away. It is the voice that carries the whole of the song using changes in pitch, tempo and dynamics to add variety and interest to what is in part a fairly repetitious tune.
There is a quite dramatic change to the piano melody at line five of the sonnet and lasting to around the end of line 11. This passage has a moderately livelier feel to it reflecting perhaps the movement of the kingcups, cow-parsley, hawthorn and dragon fly. This is in sharp contrast to the stillness experienced by the lovers as they lie together in the grass.

Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass, -
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky: -
So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love

DG Rossetti

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