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The Stolen Child (cycle)
Scott Robinson

SATB, string trio

I. Cradle Song
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II. The Stolen Child
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III. Child of Our Time

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$3.00 per copy of the cycle

(purchase includes 3 files: full score, choral score and string parts)

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Program/Peformance notes:

The Wheatland Chorale, a community choir based in Lancaster, PA, commissioned The Stolen Child during the Gulf War. As questions began to arise about exactly how “smart” American “smart bombs” were, my thoughts were increasingly drawn to the plight of the women and children of Baghdad. In the ancient tradition of commenting upon contemporary issues by writing about related situations from different times and places, I chose these three Irish poems, only one of which is explicitly about war and its effect on children.

Yeats’ “Cradle Song” is a simple little lullaby, assuring the child that God and the soaring planets are looking down at them with delight. The poem is tinged with melancholy, as the mother acknowledges that she will miss the child when it has journeyed into adulthood. I chose a simple, rocking 6/4 rhythm, occasionally reorganized into 3/2 to keep it from becoming monotonous and to suggest that it will not last.

The second movement, a setting of Yeats’ “The Stolen Child,” is derived musically from three sources: a little French Impressionist-style jig I wrote for my wife Allison, which seemed suggestive of faeries and airy beings; a setting of the Irish ballad “Carrickfergus” which I wrote before I knew that there already was one, and the traditional Irish reel “Drowsey Maggie.” I chose the last for purely musical reasons, because I like the way the tune’s opening lick outlines a minor seventh; its appropriate title was pure serendipity, all the more ironic because the tune itself is not in the least drowsy.

I saw the poem, which recounts the spiriting away of a young child by the faeries, as a metaphor for the seductive powers exercised upon children’s imaginations. Though the faeries promise to take the child away from “a world more full of weeping than you can understand,” they remove it at the same time from all familiar worldly comforts--the kettle on the hob, the lowing of cattle on the hillside. How often have the young been drawn away from homely things by the powerful, with their abstract ideas and promises of better things to be. The metaphor applies, I think, to all aspects of the military-industrial complex, whether the surface message is “fight this war” or “buy this video-game system.”

The third poem, contemporary Irish poet Eavon Boland’s moving “Child of Our Time,” is also a cradle song--but this time, the child is dead, a victim of war. The music begins with--and obsessively returns to--a motif derived from the opening of the first cradle song, and also refers more directly both to it and to the second movement at various points. I like to build a lot of continuity into my pieces, both because I believe it makes them more comprehensible, and because material taken from one context--a contented little lullaby, for instance--and placed later in a very different one--for example, a lament for a dead child--increases exponentially in power, as objects left behind by departed loved ones gain power and significance by their simultaneous existence in the present and the past.

Scott Robinson

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