Unshorn Apollo

for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra

2013

24 minutes

Texts: Robert Herrick

Voices: sop, bar, chorus
Orchestra: 2222 2230 Timp 2 perc strings

Movements

(The audio samples are excerpted from a performance of Devices and Desires by Arizona State University orchestra and choruses. Parts of that work became the basis for Unshorn Apollo.)

1. A Hymne to Love

2. Upon Julia’s hair
(Jon Linford, baritone)

3. Morning Prayers

4. Make Me a Heaven
(the beginning)

(from the middle portion)
(Darleen Kliewer, sopano; Jon Linford, baritone)

Composer Notes: For much of his life, 17th-century poet Robert Herrick served as an Anglican vicar in Devon. The lyrical beauty of his secular poetry has given him enduring fame as a poet. He wrote pious poetry as well, but penned five times as many lines devoted to earthly matters.

Herrick’s poetry can make earthly, heavenly, and imaginary things all seem magical. Many of his finest poems are about or addressed to various imaginary lovers, including Julia, Corinna, Electra, and others.

As I composed this work I imagined the baritone soloist to be Robert Herrick, and the soprano to be Julia, the most frequently named of Herrick’s imaginary mistresses. So in the following descriptions, I refer to the vocal soloists as “Herrick” and “Julia.”

1. A Hymne to Love

In this opening invocation Herrick asks unshorn Apollo to inspire him so that he can sing a hymn to love. Rather than have the baritone express this directly, I chose to let the chorus and the soprano convey his thoughts.

2. Upon Julia’s hair, bundled up in a golden net

In the second movement Herrick pleads with Julia to let down her hair and let her tresses flow.

3. Morning Prayers

While creating the complex third movement, “Morning Prayers,” I imagined an interaction between Herrick as vicar and Herrick as a secular poet. To do this I used both Herrick’s secular and sacred poetry, an Anglican hymn, and excerpts from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The spirit of the movement was to imagine Herrick daydreaming as he goes about his duties as vicar.

The movement begins with a poem in which Herrick asks Julia to assist him with Matins, the Morning Prayer service. Herrick then asks the congregation to confess their sins, using text from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The chorus responds from the prayer book.

But after the choir sings the words “we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,” they seem to become Herrick’s poetic voice, and his imagination turns toward his desires. The choir sings his poem, “A Conjuration,” in which he invokes a variety of powers (including the goddess/sorceress Hecate) to implore Electra (another imaginary lover) to “be in love with none but me.”

The choir then becomes a congregation again, and sings a fragment from the hymn, “Ye watchers and ye holy ones.” Herrick responds by asking God to forgive him for his “unbaptized rhymes writ in my wild unhallowed times,” and the choir responses with another fragment of the hymn. But Herrick then tells God if he finds any of his secular poems worthy of his benediction, then that “one shall be the glory of my work and me.”

The choir sings a series of Alleluias from the hymn, and Herrick and the choir intone another two lines from the Morning Prayer service. But Herrick’s thoughts immediately return to Julia, with one of his most famous poems, “Upon Julia’s Clothes.” The choir answers with a long passage based on the hymn, and then the movement ends with Herrick and Julia contentedly vocalizing.

4. Make Me a Heaven

I interlocked two of Herrick's poems to create the text for the final movement, and in these poems two contrasting kinds of heaven are addressed. One poem opens Herrick’s collection of poetry Hesperides and outlines the subjects he will write about. His last subject is to sing of Heaven and hope to have it after all.

The other poem asks a painter to create a painting of a celestial heaven, filling it with all the beauties he can imagine. That poem ends by saying that once the painting has been filled with all imaginable beauty, it will be no more captivating than his Corinna’s eyes.