Geoffrey Bache Smith (1894-1916) was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien (one of my favorite authors). He was killed in World War I, and a collection of his poetry, titled Spring Harvest and edited by Tolkien, was published posthumously. It is from this collection that bass Ian Schipper selected the text for this song.
Smith’s poem evokes a fantastical mood and conveys an epic scope similar to Tolkien’s writings. The exciting, adventurous imagery set my imagination ablaze and inspired me to write sweeping, cinematic gestures in the piano and heroic lines for the singer.
By Candlelight was written for bass Ian Schipper and pianist Elizabeth Caswell for Cascadia Composers‘ 2021 In Good Hands concert.
Voice & Piano
Low Key: E2-D4 (bass) or E3-D5 (contralto)
Medium Key: A2-G4 (baritone) or A3-G5 (mezzo)
High Key: B2-A4 (tenor) or B3-A5 (soprano)
Additional transpositions available by request.
Preview the score (low key – additional keys available to preview by request)
Rime by Geoffrey Bache Smith
O scholar grey, with quiet eyes,
Reading the charactered pages, bright
With one tall candle’s flickering light,
In a turret chamber under the skies;
O scholar, learned in gramarye,*
Have you seen the manifold things I see?
Have you seen the forms of traced towers
Whence clamorous voices challenge the hours:
Gaunt tree-branches, pitchy black
Against the long, wind-driven wrack
Of scurrying, shuddering clouds, that race
Ever across the pale moon’s face?
Have you heard the tramp of hurrying feet.
There beneath, in the shadowy street,
Have you heard sharp cries, and seen the flame
Of silvery steel, in a perilous game,
A perilous game for men to play,
Hid from the searching eyes of day?
Have you heard the great awakening breath,
Like trump that summons the saints from death,
Of the wild, majestical wind, which blows
Loud and splendid, that each man knows
Far, O far away is the sea,
Breaking, murmuring, stark and free?
All these things I hear and see,
I, a scholar of gramarye:
All are writ in the ancient books
Clear, exactly, and he that looks
Finds the night and the changing sea,
The years gone by, and the years to be:
(He that searches, with tireless eyes
In a turret-chamber under the skies)
Passion and joy, and sorrow and laughter,
Life and death, and the things thereafter.
*gramarye: necromancy, magic, enchantment