My Last Summer

Genre: Choral

Mood: Reflective

Forces: TBB

Length: 4 Minutes


A piece from 2017 for men’s voices, with one tenor and two bass parts.

Sheet Music

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Canoe (1940)

Well, I am thinking this may be my last
summer, but cannot lose even a part
of pleasure in the old-fashioned art
of idleness. I cannot stand aghast

at whatever doom hovers in the background:
while grass and buildings and the somnolent river,
who know they are allowed to last forever,
exchange between them the whole subdued sound

of this hot time. What sudden fearful fate
can deter my shade wandering next year
from a return? Whistle and I will hear
and come again another evening, when this boat

travels with you alone toward Iffley:
as you lie looking up for thunder again,
this cool touch does not betoken rain;
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly.

Keith Castellain Douglas, born Tunbridge Wells 24 Jan 1920, died Caen, Normandy, 9 June 1944

Programme notes

Keith Douglas’s poem Canoe is notable for its duality of mood. It contrasts the languorous progress of Keith and Antoinette’s canoe through Oxford, and the coming world war - in which Douglas was himself to die.

Reflecting this, my piece was conceived with two main motifs. The first is a folk tune, à la Vaughan Williams, composed not found: this stands for the Oxfordshire countryside, with its rich tradition of folk song and dance, a tune which opens with a rising fourth.

The second is a series of stacked chords made of that same fourth interval, C to F, F to B, B to E, and so forth, an unstable harmony that reflects the stormclouds of war.

The restless switching between F natural and F sharp accentuates this instability. In the poem’s carefree sections, as befits a folk tune, the music is chorale-like, only beginning to break up when war’s horror is superposed.

The piano provides a simple accompaniment, as well as filling in melody when the voices fall silent.