Fraley’s Lost Delight is based on an excerpt from Adela Florence Nicolson’s poem by the same name. Originally a choral setting (SATB, Flute, Piano), I liked it so much that I also made a solo arrangement (F. 157b). In its choral form, it is a continuation of the cycle of choral pieces entitled India’s Love Lyrics that includes Golden Stars (F. 150), Wistful Wind (F. 152), The Plains (F. 154), Lost Delight (F. 157), Famine Song (F. 164), and Reminiscence (F. 166).
In this setting, the flute plays the role of the lost beloved (i.e. the “lost delight”), while the vocalist (or choir, depending upon version) is the lover/narrator. Let’s take a quick look at the poem, which takes place in India:
“Lost Delight” After the Hazara War
I lie alone beneath the Almond blossoms,
Where we two lay together in the spring,
And now, as then, the mountain snows are melting,
This year, as last, the water-courses sing.
That was another spring, and other flowers,
Hung, pink and fragile, on the leafless tree.
The land rejoiced in other running water,
And I rejoiced, I rejoiced because you were with me.
You, with your soft eyes, darkly lashed and shaded,
Your red lips like a living, laughing rose,
Your restless, amber limbs so lithe and slender.
Now lost to me. …
You lay beside me singing in the sunshine;
Your soft, brown hair, lay loosely by your neck,
And showed your smooth skin, fair as the Almond blossoms,
On which the sun could find no flaw or fleck.
I lie alone. I lie alone. I lie alone.
Changes I made to the words are indicated in italics, omissions with ellipses (excerpted from much longer poem). These changes lead to a compact, focused story of loss, filled with great imagery and poignant retelling of memories—perfect for setting to music!
By the way, the reason I changed the line to “Your soft, brown hair, lay loosely by your neck” from the original “The rough, white fur, unloosened at the neck” has to do with setting the poetry to music. Music is a temporal experience: it takes place in time, and interfering with that flow through time is extremely disruptive.
The problem with the original line is that it causes a disruption because the imagery is not clear upon the first hearing, especially to modern listeners as we don’t normally wear fur coats anymore, and given that the line comes immediately after a reference to sunshine, which is warm, not cold. Thus, the line raises all sorts of questions: what fur? whose fur? why is it rough? what does “unloosened at the neck” mean? whose neck? etc. These questions are exactly what I don’t want listeners focused on! The new lyric, although not particularly original, nicely bridges the “lay beside me” to the “smooth skin”.
Like all of the other pieces in this cycle, Lost Delight’s harmonic structure is based upon pentatonic chords. (See “Harmonic Language” section of The Plains for details.) In this piece, the piano part is not a “normal” piano part, but rather spells out the harmonic foundation for the vocal and flute parts.
For most of the piece, the piano spells out a chord formed from stacked fifths, for example: C G D A E starts the piece. This particular arrangement of these notes is interesting because of its tuning: in equal temperament (which is how modern pianos are almost always tuned) this chord is nearly perfectly in tune (each interval is only two cents flat from “true” tuning). This tuning corresponds with what is called Pythagorean tuning. So for this piece (at least the non-minor sections), it is intended to be tuned with Pythagorean intervals, and singers should naturally do so, as these intervals will be result in pitches most in tune with the piano and flute.
The sections set in minor (e.g. “That was another spring…”) use a different configuration of the minor pentatonic chord*: C G D G E-flat C A-flat. This voicing shows how minor chords and intervals are derived in tonal music: in a major chord, both G and E (the 5th and the 3rd) are directly derived from C (the root); in a minor chord, however, only G (the 5th) is derived from C (the root)—E-flat (the minor 3rd) is actually derived from G (E-flat is a major third below G). Similarly, the A-flat in this chord is derived from the C.
(*Note the definition of minor pentatonic chord I am using substantially differs from the traditional definition of a minor pentatonic scale.)
And like all of my vocal/choral settings, you will find many examples of word painting:
- The downward motion of “melting” reflecting what happens when mountain snows melt.
- “on the leafless tree” is unaccompanied, reinforcing the image of being alone.
- “running water” is a long melisma.
- “with me” this is the only point in the whole piece where the flute and the vocal melody exactly coincide. The flute then continues on its way, which also illustrates how the beloved has moved on is no longer with the lover.
- “living, laughing” melodically reflects those adjectives with a jumping motion.
- “restless” and “lithe” are painted with grace note ornaments.
- “Now lost to me” is completely unaccompanied.
- The vocalist sings “I lie alone” and the flute echoes, illustrating that although both live, they do so separately—they each “lie alone”.
- The final “I lie alone” is unaccompanied.