ENS.087 | 8.10.07-10.4.07 | 7’
Baritone, 2 Cellos
Poem by Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
Had we but world enough, and time, I could discuss the efforts of the many composers who have had their way with Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, but for now let’s just discuss mine. Seth Gilman requested a work for his early music ensemble, and I responded with this setting of that famous seventeenth-century poem for baritone and viola da gamba. Originally I took my inspiration from technical matters: the unusual tuning of the gamba’s six strings, which made possible novel harmonies and timbres. However, a viola da gamba not being especially common in the twenty-first century, I ended up revising it for cello. That version never really worked, so eventually this (hopefully!) final version for baritone with two cellos was made.
The work is built on a kind of ritornello in fifths, and attempts to deregularize the poem’s meter by rendering it as if it were unmeasured speech, displacing accents and dramatizing points of emphasis, pushing and pulling the poem like taffy. After an interlude, the climax features double-stops gradually descending from the highest to lowest strings of an (imaginary) viola da gamba, energizing the work until it returns at the conclusion to where it began.