Piece of the Week 58 – Welcome Spring!

I think the jury is out as to when the ‘official’ first day of Spring is, but as I write this it is such a beautiful morning, the daffodils are blooming, the birds are singing, my cup of tea is nice and warm, that I thought I would write about my little cantata ‘Welcome Spring!’. This is a ten-minute piece, with four movements, for SATB, optional youth choir, and piano (or string orchestra). It was originally commissioned by John Pomphrey for his Maia Singers and the Stockport Youth Choir, with the title ‘Welcome May’, but I recently slightly revised it and decided to rename it, as it actually tells the story of the whole of Spring, from February’s melting snow to a May-time foretaste of summer.

My aim was to write a piece which responded tunefully to the joy of Spring, and the result, I hope, is an accessible and light-hearted portrait which choirs and audiences will enjoy. The first and last of the four movements are settings of excerpts from ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’ by nature’s own poet, John Clare: between these come a ‘Hymn to Spring’ by the eighteenth-century cleric and author of Amazing Grace, John Newton, and the traditional ‘Spring is Sprung’, which is probably the silliest set of words I’ve ever used!

The first movement, The Snow Melts, is in a bright A major, depicting the melting snow, with icicles turning to drips of water, and introducing the traditional characters of country life – the milkmaid, the shepherd, the ploughman, ducks, geese, and children. Then Hymn to Spring talks of restored life, the promise of harvest, and the lines ‘Hark, the birds with artless lays, warble their Creator’s praise’. I think I particularly picked up on these lines in my setting, with a very simple scale-wise melody line, and trilling birds in the accompaniment. There’s probably little to be said about Spring is Sprung, except to say that I hope it brings a smile to singers and audience! Finally, The Coming of May contrasts two ideas, the first focussing on the ‘merry minstrelsy’ of birds and bees, and the second introducing the village children playing ball-games and making mischief (in two or three-part canon) – finally these ideas are combined to make a joyful conclusion. Part of this last poem was also set by Britten in his ‘Spring Symphony’ – a piece which has been at the back of my mind ever since I first heard it as a child – and I think I may not have been able to erase it entirely, though I hope the result can be considered admiration rather than plagiarism.

The version with piano accompaniment was the original, and I later arranged it for string orchestra, which involved some differences in the accompaniment, though not in the choir parts. The only recording I have is with strings, and you can hear this, with a scrolling piano score, here.

The music is on sale as a digital download from  Sheet Music Direct, or Sheet Music Plus and printed copies directly from me at Colne Edition (print to order). The string parts and score are on hire from Colne Edition.

All the movements can be sung separately, and in particular I’m just about to make a separate version of ‘Spring is Sprung’ for Youth Choir alone (with optional cambiata/baritone) and piano, which I hope will be available in a few days from the same sources as above. There’s also a YouTube video, with springtime pictures, of Hymn to Spring here.

Make the most of the Spring weather!