Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ode to Death, Op.38, H144






–Gustav Theodore Holst, 1874 -1934, England
London Symphony Chorus
City of London Sinfonia
Richard Hickox, conductor




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Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious:
And for love, sweet love – But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee - I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so – when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing
the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

From me thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee – adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sight of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky,
are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice
I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves - over the myriad fields, and the
prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack’d cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!


–Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Death Carol
When lilacs last in the Door-yard Bloom’d
Leaves of Grass



Ode to Death, H.144, Op.38, is a musical composition for chorus and orchestra by English composer Gustav Holst (1874–1934) written in 1919. It is a setting of a passage from Walt Whitman's 1865 elegy When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd that was written to mourn the death of American president Abraham Lincoln.
After World War I, Gustav Holst turned to the last section of Whitman's elegy to mourn friends killed in the war in composing his Ode to Death (1919) for chorus and orchestra. Holst saw Whitman "as a New World prophet of tolerance and internationalism as well as a new breed of mystic whose transcendentalism offered an antidote to encrusted Victorianism." According to Sullivan, "Holst invests Whitman’s vision of “lovely and soothing death” with luminous open chords that suggest a sense of infinite space....Holst is interested here in indeterminacy, a feeling of the infinite, not in predictability and closure."

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