ABOUT THE MUSIC
That Time of Year is an a cappella setting of one of Shakespeare’s most poignant sonnets (No.73). The overall mood is one of gentle melancholy – sometimes almost sombre in tone, largely due to the archaic-sounding modal harmonies and cadences, derived in part from the Italian madrigal tradition – echoing, at times, the gloomy, pained music of Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), an almost exact contemporary of Shakespeare (1564-1616).
The frequently subdued dynamics and wide vocal range require a firm degree of control. The soprano line is particularly demanding, because of its high, but often very quiet notes. The middle section comprises a set group of phrases from which the singers are free to choose, but all are calculated to sound well together. During this middle section, the baritones and basses should ideally move to the front centre of the stage, while all others retreat backwards, and further out, to form a wide, distant arc – so producing a “ghostly” vocal effect. (At this point, adventurous and well-practised singers may wish to move around while performing, either randomly or in a set pattern, at the back of the stage.) All singers then come together again for the final section.
The choral version of That Time of Year was given a workshop performance by the BBC Singers at BBC Maida Vale Studios on 4th October 2016, led by Judith Weir, CBE, Master of the Queen’s Music, and conducted by James Morgan – under the auspices of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA).
2004; revised 2016
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang;
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west.
Which by and by black night doth take away,
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of its youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)