Performance Note: Boosey & Hawkes offers an optional hammered dulcimer score, but it requires a chromatic dulcimer, as the piece is scored in Eb minor. Dulcimer players with instruments in standard “folk keys” please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a score in E minor or D minor, and choirs may adjust up or down a half-step in performance.
I have performed this piece with piano and hammered dulcimer playing together, with piano covering middle modulating passages, and dulcimer returning when the key has “settled” again. The score gives exact notation, but the easiest way to use hammered dulcimer would be for the player to learn the piece as if from a chord chart, and to work out their own patterns. The accompaniment was written to be suggestive of a folk instrument — such as banjo or hammered dulcimer — but works best in the written notation on a piano.
Innisfree is a small island in Lough Gill (Irish for “bright lake”) in County Sligo, Ireland, where William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) spent his childhood summers. In 1888, walking along Fleet Street in London, he was struck with the inspiration for his poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:
“I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem ‘Innisfree,’ my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music….”
Yeats in his later writing consciously sought to avoid archaic and stereotypically “poetic” language, and once remarked that he wouldn’t have permitted himself to write some of the lines in this poem just a few years afterward. And yet, despite its pastoral depiction and lovely phrases, the poem is in fact quite sturdy, with a strong beat, and although it may be about “peace” it is anything but “quiet.” Rather it is filled with sounds: the “bee-loud glade,” the song of the cricket, the beat of linnet’s wings, and “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.”
It is the lively life of Yeats’ utopian vision that undergirds my setting of this text — it is much closer in style to a work song than any sort of romantic pastorale. But another mood besides wholesome busyness colors the deeper layers of the piece, and the poem. The longer I lived with Yeats’ text, the more I “felt” the reality of Fleet Street and the longing that the “pavements grey” induced in the heart of this sensitive poet. The minor mode suggests the seriousness of the poet’s yearnings, and the depth of his homesickness for Innisfree — not an imaginary utopia, but a real place of home in Yeats’ beloved Ireland.
The text for the interlude material is drawn from the Shakers, the communitarian sect that flourished in 19th century America. Renowned for their technological innovations as well as their rich musical culture, the Shakers, in addition to their many thousands of original spiritual songs, also created a body of “wordless songs” which often contained such syllables as “lo lodle lo.”
“I Will Arise and Go” was commissioned by the Mountainside Master Chorale, Jean-Sebastien Vallee, conductor.