Four Poems by St. Teresa of Avila (1947)
Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila
(Translation by Arthur Symons)
1. If, Lord, Thy love for is strong
2. Shepherd, shepherd, hark that calling!
3. Let min eyes see Thee
4. Today a shepherd and our kin
‘Four Poems of Saint Teresa of Avila’, for contralto and string orchestra, was composed in 1947; there are many who consider it Berkeley’s finest work. Certainly almost every facet of this musical personality is here seen at its finest: his melodic invention; the sheer prettiness of his writing; its elegance and unaffected distinction; his unerring sense of form in shorter works - and beyond these, a more earnest, sober vein, expressed with a quiet passion and intensity. The first and third of St Teresa’s lyrics are love-songs to God, the first of them a dialogue which (in Arthur Symons’s translations) reads like a divine poem by an English 17th century writer, the other softer and simpler and gentler. The second and forth poems are shepherd songs.
In ‘If Lord, Thy love for me is strong’ the questioning of the first strophe is put strongly, resolutely, while the orchestra, in a motif twisting and turning around B (the key-note), frames a mood of anguished yearning. The anxious dialogue which follows is at a quicker tempo, while in the final strophe the original motif returns in the bass.
‘Shepherd, shepherd, hark that calling!’ is a musette. The refrain is sung merrily over a drone and an arpeggio ripple on Gs and Ds, a harmony which the voice generally fills in which a B natural, sometimes with a B flat. This is a dancing, lilting song. The third song is like a gentle berceuse. He forth is perhaps the most remarkable of all. The shepherd simplicity of the poem (recalling an English mystery play) is retained in the vocal line (which lies low, and encourages the singer to sound like a boy). Yet the way in which this forthright declamation is set against the accompaniment recalls in some respects a chorale working. And as the song progresses, the accompaniment becomes livelier, more intricate, and takes on dance rhythms.