The Garden of Magnitudes

Three Madrigals and a Lament

Instrumentation: Counter-Teno ; 2 Teno ; Bariton ; Bass

Duration: 10 minutes

Date of Composition: 1987

Performance: The Hilliard Ensemble; Canterbury College; October 1987

Commissioner:  Vale of Glamorgan Festival

Programme Note:  These four short pieces were chosen after reading much Russian poetry. I was taken by the sincerity and passion with which the authors continued to write in the face of great opposition, endeavouring to pursue an artistic path, using creativity as a defiant personal message to authority. Perhaps it was the sad fate of many poets at that time in Russia that prompted the selection of these verses, but I see in them courage and also bitterness, strength and sensitivity.


Texts:     Osip Mandelstam    Octets VIII / IX / X

Octet VIII

In needle sharp plague goblets
we drink the delusion of causes,
we touch with hooks magnitudes
small as an easy death.                                             

Even when the spillikins had coupled together
a child conserves his silence-
the great universe sleeps in the cradle
of a little eternity.

Octet IX

And I walk out from space
Into the overgrown garden of magnitudes,
and luck fleeting constancy
and self-consciousness of causes.

Infinity, I alone read
your herbal without anybody else,
a wild, leafless book of healing,
a huge-rooted book of riddles.

Octet X

The hard blue eye pierced with nature’s law
having overcome its memorization,
the rocks play the fool in Christ in the earth’s crust,
and a groan tears itself like ore from the chest,
and the deaf miscarriage stretches
like a road, curling like a horn,
to understand the inner plenty of space,
and the petal and the cupola’s pledge.

Paul Fleming - On a Corpse

Flashing light across the sky,
thin mist when the winds whirl round,
showers that scarcely wet the ground,
pistol shot, the smoke drifts by,
storms that threaten; quickly die,
empty valley echo-sound,
arrows when the mark is found,
soft ice when the sun is high.

These are the things we well may call
empty and ephemeral,
but, as swiftly as they pass,
so your life, oh man, flies hence,
prisoner of transience.
All is nothing: you - its glass


  © Brian Noyes 2014