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Sabrina Fair

My musical setting for Milton's poem Sabrina Fair for soprano, flute, and piano.

The poem is one of the most luscious ever written in any language.  Milton must have had trouble being a Puritan; fortunately, sometimes he failed.

The dissonances in measures 13-14 are deliberate in an attempt to suggest the strangeness of an underwater grotto, but maybe they just sound off key?

This would sound more atmospheric with harp, but I scored it for piano because 1) I don't feel yet I know enough about harp to score for it and 2) it might be more likely to get performed with piano than with harp.  I'm continuing to study books and web sites on harp composition, and if I ever feel confident enough to try it, I'll make a version with harp.  Comments from harpists on this possibility would be most welcome.

As always, I'll be glad to receive any comments on this composition, especially from performers, even if a long time has passed since I posted it.

The sound file was generated with software using synth choral ah voices as a demo, even though the vocal is supposed to be solo.

Simultaneous sound file and score available at:

Sabrina Fair by Jon Corelis on MuseScore

or

Sabrina Fair by Jon Corelis on YouTube

The lyrics:

Sabrina fair, 
listen where thou art sitting, 
under the glassy, cool, translucent wave, 
in twisted braids of lilies knitting 
the loose train of thy amber dropping hair; 
listen for dear honor's sake,
goddess of the silver lake: 
listen and save.

Please note that while this composition is based on a poem in the public domain, my musical setting of it is an original creative work under copyright. You may feel free to share or link to it by the usual means. For performance permission, please see my permissions page.

Image:An illustration from a 1922 edition John Milton's Comus, illu...

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I get Japanese colors in this. Or perhaps it is modal? Anyway nicely done. 

Now i want to hear Paradise Lost...

Thanks for the response.  Yes, I used a traditional Japanese scale I found somewhere -- I forget the name of it -- which is basically a C major scale with the D and G omitted (or any other key with the corresponding steps) hoping it would give the piece a delicate, plaintive mood.

Ah, that explains it. I think it also gives it a dark and mysterious mood. Which works well for the subject matter.

That 13-14 dissonance might get messy in live performance. What you could do (and I think it won't sabotage the music, this kind of gentle flowing seems to be the intent) is push the flute a quarter note to the right on the dissonances, so: A = a dotted half note, F = quarter tied to quarter in the next bar, E = a half note (nice syncopation here) and C = a quarter.

This is a Baroque counterpoint trick (although they'd only use it with very specific interval combinations). It allows you to pile up a lot of tension but maintain the fluidity of the performance because the lines are kept more separate; even if the end result has a lot of edge, you don't just have clunky chords plopped here and there, instead, everyone does their own self-consistent thing and it only comes off as eerie when combined.

Thanks very much for the suggestion.  I'll try it out.

Greg Brus said:

That 13-14 dissonance might get messy in live performance. What you could do (and I think it won't sabotage the music, this kind of gentle flowing seems to be the intent) is push the flute a quarter note to the right on the dissonances, so: A = a dotted half note, F = quarter tied to quarter in the next bar, E = a half note (nice syncopation here) and C = a quarter.

This is a Baroque counterpoint trick (although they'd only use it with very specific interval combinations). It allows you to pile up a lot of tension but maintain the fluidity of the performance because the lines are kept more separate; even if the end result has a lot of edge, you don't just have clunky chords plopped here and there, instead, everyone does their own self-consistent thing and it only comes off as eerie when combined.

Very nice, very nice indeed! I agree with Greg, although I'm quite fond of that type of dissonance... I'd say if the singers can manage it keep it in!

Thanks for the response.  As to Greg Brus's suggestion, I tried it out on the sound file and it gives quite a different effect, not a bad effect, but I'm unsure whether it fits in stylistically with the rest of the composition.  The best thing I think would be to keep that technique in mind and try it out both ways in rehearsal with performers, if I can ever get it performed.

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