The Hazel Wood: A Dramatic Cantata for Choir, Brass Ensemble and Organ

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


The Hazel Wood is a setting of W B Yeats’s famous poem ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ from his 1899 collection The Wind Among Reeds. Like much of Yeats’s work it is a heady mix of Celtic mythology, Christian allusions and personal reminiscences all of which appeal greatly to me as a composer. The Aengus of Yeats’s poem was a god of Irish mythology who stayed forever young in a world of immortality and lived in a palace on what it today’s River Boyne. As the story goes, he became sick with love for a young maiden he had glimpsed only once, and after years of searching he finally found her, but rather unhelpfully she had become a swan. He jumped into the water with her, became a swan and they lived happily ever after. In Yeats’s version of the story the protagonist has become an old man by the end of the poem and looks back wistfully at his life, the final verse being more bittersweet then the preceding material.

I was taken by the inherent drama in Yeats’s verse, from the passion and obsession of the opening lines (‘a fire was in my head’), the years of searching, the revealing of the girl and then the final nostalgic reminiscences – it felt like a grand narrative, a story that had to be told, and one that would benefit from music. The Hazel Wood is in three distinct sections (which don’t necessarily correlate to the verses of the poem): a twisting, polyphonic opening over a repeated pedal in the organ which then moves to a long second section with rapturous vocal phrases and powerful brass interjections, the final section is a variation on the opening with a serene coda for solo soprano and a capella chorus.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Dec 2012


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