In country sleep
a setting of the poem by Dylan Thomas; for tenor soloist and chamber orchestra

Composition Date: 1962
Genre: Solo Voice, With Chamber Ensemble, Woodwind(s) / Brass / Percussion, Plectral String / String Bowed

Instrumentation:

Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 1 x Flute
  • 1 x Oboe
  • 1 x Clarinet
  • 1 x Bassoon
  • 2 x Horn
  • 1 x Timpani
  • 1 x Harp
  • 1 x Tenor
  • 1 x Unspecified bowed strings
Instrumentation Set Number 2:
  • 1 x Tenor
  • 1 x Chamber orch.
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Programme Note:
In Country Sleep is a stunning rendering of Dylan Thomas’ 1947 poem of the same name. It is the poet’s prayer for his young daughter, an incantation full of fairy tale imagery and a terrifying catalogue of life’s fears that lie ahead and from which the poet invokes the child’s protection. It is a dark poem that places the reader, and the child, in a dream deep beneath the overhanging “pouncing boughs” of a Little Red Riding Hood forest with the wolf in his “lair of the flocked leaves” wearing his “baaing hood”. Nightmarish images of birds, ghosts and animal eyes confront the reader, as they do the sleeping child, in a boiling cauldron of ancient lore. Over all, however, is knowledge that the nightmare is conquerable, that the dark forest is also a happy “squirrel nimble grove”, “The country is holy” and that “faith is deathless”.
Just as Thomas’ poem was inspired by his 4-year-old daughter as yet untouched by life’s cruelties and sorrows, Weisgarber’s setting of the poem was written in the fall of 1956 as a gift for his own daughter’s second birthday. He was lucky enough to have been present when Dylan Thomas’ himself read the poem in the United States in 1953 during the last months of the poet’s life. In Weisgarber’s own words: “A decision to undertake a setting was not made until 1956, and only then after my failure to come to grips with a setting of the W. B. Yeats poem A Prayer for My Daughter which, indeed, may have been one of the inspirations for [Thomas’] great pastoral poem.”
Although there are no notes to this effect in the score I, the recipient of the birthday gift and now my late father’s editor, have imagined the tenor soloist to be the voice of Thomas while the viola solo that begins and ends the work to be Weisgarber’s voice.
Performers and listeners alike will recognize in Weisgarber’s music the influence of some of the 20th century’s most remarkable composers. In this work, his admiration for the composition of Paul Hindemith will be apparent and his love for the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams unmistakable.
This is the composer’s 1962 orchestration of his original version for tenor, clarinet, violin, viola, double-bass and piano.
Weisgarber revised the orchestral work during the summer of 1980 while on holiday in Dorset, England. That version has never been performed. In Weisgarber’s own words: “...always haunted by it [his earlier version of the work] and despite its imperfections, (it had remained one of my favourite children) I felt compelled to study it once again. Pruning here, adding there, composing new stretches of music and drastically revising the orchestration, the score on the following pages is the result.” Unfortunately, many of his drastic alterations were made to the vocal part which would, if a singer wished to make the work part of his repertoire for both chamber music and orchestral performances, make it necessary to learn two completely different scores for essentially the same work. As my father’s editor who wishes to see the work performed often and enjoyed by many, I felt that that situation would not be in the work’s best interests. Therefore I made the decision to make the orchestral version public solely in its 1962 format. The 1980 revision is housed in the University Archives, University of British Columbia, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, Vancouver, B.C. if anyone in the future wishes to study or make use of it.
One revision that a conductor may wish to make if he or she wishes to try it is to have the opening and closing viola solo played by the entire section. In the revision it is even doubled by the entire cello section an octave lower. I liked that idea personally but I also appreciated the freedom allowed to an individual player which the original orchestration retains. I was also concerned about possible balance problems at the soloist’s entrance.
I have attempted to ferret out and correct mistakes. Any that may remain are my responsibility alone. The composer chose to use “unnecessary” accidentals liberally in an effort to clarify the pitch he desired. Guided partially by markings in the performers’ parts I removed any that appeared to be more confusing and added others where they seemed to be needed. For the present edition I have altered tempo markings where necessary in order to maintain consistency between the chamber music and orchestral versions. Weisgarber chose to write his tempo indications in English. I added a couple of a tempos for clarity.
Permission to use the poem did not extend to printing it in full outside the musical context so I would urge performers of this music to acquire a copy of Dylan Thomas: Selected Poems 1934-1952 published by New Directions, New York which was used to prepare the present edition. Reading and studying a Thomas poem is like the proverbial peeling of an onion that continuously reveals another layer previously unseen. It will provide constant amazement for anyone preparing the work for performance.
~ Karen Suzanne Smithson, daughter and editor
March 2010

Premiere Information:
1963 (exact date unknown) CBC Vancouver, B.C. broadcast; Robert Morris, tenor soloist; CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra Conductor: John Avison

CATALOGUE INFO:

  • Call Number:
  • MV 1276 W427in
  • Genre:
  • Solo Voice, With Chamber Ensemble, Woodwind(s) / Brass / Percussion, Plectral String / String Bowed
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • April 16, 2010
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 Score (98 p.) ; 28 cm.
    98 Pages
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
    Parts page count: 55
    Piano Reduction: 35 Pages
    13 parts ([55] p.) ;
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
    1 piano reduction (35 p.) ;
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
  • Additional Information:
  • Tenor soloist; flute; oboe; clarinet; bassoon; 2 horns; timpani; harp; strings
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In Country Sleep a Setting of the Poem by Dylan Thomas; for Tenor Soloist and Chamber Orchestra: Score
Score
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In Country Sleep a Setting of the Poem by Dylan Thomas; for Tenor Soloist and Chamber Orchestra: Score and Parts
Score and Parts
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In country sleep a setting of the poem by Dylan Thomas; for tenor soloist and chamber orchestra by Elliot Weisgarber (Score)
Printed on demand
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In country sleep a setting of the poem by Dylan Thomas; for tenor soloist and chamber orchestra by Elliot Weisgarber (Score and Parts)
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In country sleep a setting of the poem by Dylan Thomas; for tenor soloist and chamber orchestra by Elliot Weisgarber (Piano Reduction)
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