Cardinal Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius is considered by some to be great, by others to be bordering on doggerel. At all events of course it was set to the music of Elgar, great beyond words. Here is a quotation from the poem: Gerontius sensing the nearness of death.
“Rouse thee my fainting soul, and play the man; And thro such waning span of life and thought as still has to be trod, Prepare to meet thy God. And while the storm of that bewilderment is for a season spent, And ere afresh the ruin on me fall, Use well the interval”.
Speaking of intervals, we are all in the midst of a strange and alarming one at the present moment. But how should we Use well the interval? Or the Lockdown for that matter. When not working in the study nor attempting to clear the rectory loft, of course one is fortunate enough to enjoy a few moments in the garden. But here I find that there is a small affliction which appears to be rather persistent, and it s all to do with intervals and music.
In distant, past, remote, forgotten singing days when it came to sight reading – or attempting it, I learnt to remember musical intervals by recalling various tunes. The trouble was that before I remembered the tune and applied it to the interval in question, the score had very much moved on!
In the potentially quiet garden I am troubled with intervals. There is a bird for example that must have grown tired of listening to car alarms and now regularly lets off a string of perfect fourths one after the other. Happily this is the mating season, so we are given respite from the pigeon s rendering of Ol Man River, the one that always ends up by mistake in the opening bars of Mozart s G minor symphony.
Intervals in music: a third is simple – While shepherds watched; fourth – Ilkley Moor, fifth – Dear Lord and Father, augmented fourth – I can t remember, nor sixth for that matter, minor third – Cherry Ripe, and so on. But then other sudden disturbing intervals to be worked out enter the general garden confusion. The mobile phone belonging to a Member of the Family. You have an email – that s a fifth. In the evening the same phone will remind you that it is time for bed – or will probably wake you up: the first three notes of the Brahms Lullaby.
I wondered if the problem might be solved by thinking of an Easter hymn that begins with a perfect fifth. A desperate measure you must agree!
Eventually I came to the not very well known but wonderful Vaughan Williams setting of Hail thee Festival Day. Latin poem by Venantius Fortunatus – 530 to 609 – SalveFesta Dies. And so another poem – but one that I hope speaks to us eloquently as to how we should use well this strange interval, and remember that the hope given to us at Easter will more than sustain and carry us through and beyond this hard and difficult and complex moment in the lives of all us, all nations and peoples.
Hail thee , Festival Day, blest day that art hallowed for ever, Day wherein Christ arose, breaking the kingdom of death.
God of all pity and power, let thy word be assured to the doubting…
Jesus, thou Health of the world, enlighten our minds, O Redeemer…
Lo, the fair beauty of earth, from the death of the winter arising; Daily the loveliness grows – Green is the woodland with leaves, bright are the meadows with flowers.
The spirit shall descend on them that await his appearing; Flame from the heart of our God, life – giving Spirit of peace.
May that Spirit of peace be yours this Easter. May it fill your hearts with hope. The Risen Lord be with you!