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This short work for 3-part male voices and piano sets a text by poet W.H. Auden. The text tells of the gradual approach of a group of soldiers and suggests a time of war in an earlier era of English history.
The text is essentially a conversation, with most verses beginning with the question 'O what is....?' the answers detailing the progress of those approaching: have they stopped at the doctor, or the parson, or the farmer? The first character becomes more frantic towards the end, as the second decides it is time to leave: '...I promised to love you, dear, but I must be leaving'.
Poet W.H. Auden was born in England but spent much of his life in the USA, having become an American citizen after his move there in 1939. His first book of poems appeared in 1928, with his 1930 collection 'Poems' firmly establishing his reputation. He served in the Spanish Civil War, and throughout his life was prolific as a poet, playwright, essayist, librettist and editor.
The work should be sung with a sense of slowly increasing menace and danger. It should also have a gradually increasing intensity through to the climax at the second to last verse. The first verse may be sung as a solo, by all the tenors, or by the entire choir in unison. The piano part should give the impression of a drum, and, if the choir is large enough to balance the sound, a snare drum may be added ad lib.
Dedicated to Mainly Men, Rangitoto College, Auckland, conducted by David Squire
Text by W.H. Auden
20 Jun 2006: Performed by Mainly Men Choir cond. David Squire; Town Hall, Auckland
08 Aug 2010: BIG SING National Finale 2010