Analysis and Performance through Film:
Song No.3, 'Where The Picnic Was'



On this page:
Analytical Description of 'Where The Picnic Was'
Performing the Song
Film Adaptation
Footnotes

View Score    Composer Information  


Analytical Description:
This poem describes a walk that Hardy took to a spot where he had had a picnic with Emma and the two poets Henry Newbolt and W.B.Yeats.[1]

Where we made the fire,
In the summer time,
Of branch and briar
On the hill to the sea
I slowly climb
Through winter mire,
And scan and trace
The forsaken place
Quite readily.

Now a cold wind blows,
And the grass is gray,
But the spot still shows
As a burnt circle - aye,
And stick-ends, charred,
Still strew the sward
Whereon I stand,
Last relic of the band
Who came that day!

Yes, I am here
Just as last year,
And the sea breathes brine
From its strange straight line
Up hither, the same
As when we four came.
- But two have wandered far
From this grassy rise
Into urban roar
Where no picnics are,
And one - has shut her eyes
For evermore.


This song is in three stanzas, following a similar pattern to 'Something Tapped', in that stanzas one and three employ similar musical material. Almost every line in this poem ends with a long vowel, illustrating Hardy's melancholy state. In the song, these long vowels are accompanied by wallowing arpeggios, each one in a different key, thus implying aimlessness: 'fire' and 'time' are in the dorian mode on B flat; 'briar' is in  the lydian mode on G flat; 'sea' in the lydian mode on E flat; 'climb' is on a chord of C minor; 'mire' on a chord of B flat minor; 'readily' is in the lydian mode on E flat (+C sharp and F sharp). The last three lines are linked together as one phrase, which creates momentum after the slow climb, and also highlights the rhyming of 'sea' and 'readily'.

The poetry and the music become harsher in stanza two. Alliteration and sibilants in lines one, two and three build up to dissonance in lines four and five (b, nt, c). It is interesting to note that Downes creates unity in the song cycle by echoing devices used in the previous song, 'Something Tapped'. The note pattern for the first two lines of poetry in the voice part of 'Where the Picnic Was', and the fact that they are sparsely accompanied, is similar to 'when there was never a trace of wind or rain' in 'Something Tapped'. Moreover the notes in the flourish in the piano at 'so cold it is' in the second song are used in this third song at the word 'blows'; at 'But the spot' (transposed up a major third), and from 'charred' to the end of the stanza at the original pitch in a persistent septuplet ostinato. Downes therefore creates the same cold and lonely atmosphere in the middle stanza as he did in the outer two stanzas of the previous song.

The poetry in stanza three is far warmer, with one long vowel after another (ere, ear, ea, ine, ange, aight). This gives a feeling of sustained wallowing. The music uses essentially the same material as stanza one, but there is more of a sense of urgency in this stanza. The voice remains on a monotone B flat for a long time, almost as though the implication is that the singer is shouting his emotions, and there is a modulation for every line of poetry: 'here' is in the lydian mode on E flat; 'year' in the lydian mode on G flat; 'brine' the lydian mode on C; 'line' is on a chord of B flat minor; 'same' is in the lydian mode on G; 'came' in the lydian mode on D flat. The voice remains on the monotone until 'Up hither' where it rises up the scale to f2 for the cry of sadness at 'But two...'. The pause before 'But two...' in the poetry implies a sudden change in mood as Hardy realises once again that he is alone. This is portrayed in the music by a break in the piano part as the voice cries out alone. The music dies down to 'are', and the arpeggio figure is played in the piano for the last time. The final climactic line is effectively quiet and subdued. The unaccompanied piano voice parallels the feelings of the lonely mourner which are echoed in the three final chords in the piano. The note on '-more' and the final piano chord give an unresolved feel alluding to infinity.

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Performing the Song:
Rubato seems to happen naturally in stanza one, due to the sweeping arpeggio figures in the piano conveying pathos, and the frequent modulations. The opening for example, could be played with a gradual speeding up, a rapid speeding up, or even a slowing down. The quaver melisma on 'summer' causes the music to slow down so that one can wallow in the heat. This in turn creates a need for speeding up in the next line, which helps the written crescendo on 'sea'. A contrast is thus provided for slowing down at 'I slowly climb', which again induces a need for speeding up in the next line.

In stanza two, the cold nature of the words and music lends itself to stricter time. Perhaps the singer could use a sobbing quality for 'Now a cold ....gray' to show how upsetting the scene has suddenly become. In contrast, 'But the spot...', marked poco misterioso, could be sung in half-voice, almost whispered. This would also provide a contrast with the rest of the stanza, where the eerily persistent ostinato causes the voice to build up in emotion, tension and dynamic as Hardy notices and remembers more and more.

The monotone in stanza three calls for a gradual crescendo. The need for rubato returns but not in the same alternating manner as before. Instead, a gradual build up of speed would compliment the build up of dynamic, getting more and more desperate as the singer breaks away from the monotone at 'up hither'. In order to make the cry of sadness at 'But two have wandered far...' sound as desperate as possible, the singer could use a sobbing quality. It will be difficult to control the last lines marked mp  after such an emotional outburst, but this will be highly realistic.

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Film Adaptation
You are now invited to watch a film realisation of 'Where The Picnic Was':

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NOW MOVE ON TO:
Analysis and Performance though Film: Song No.4, 'At Castle Boterel'

Analysis and Performance though Film: Song No.5, 'The Curtains Now Are Drawn'

OR BACK TO:
Analysis and Performance through Film: Song No.2, 'Something Tapped'

Analysis and Performance through Film: Song No.1, 'The Division'

CASE STUDY Andrew Downes' Old Love's Domain: Analysis and Performance through Film

Analysis and Performance: A Survey of the Literature




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Footnotes

[1] These two poets had visited Max Gate to present Hardy with the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature on his seventy-second birthday.

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