Roger Marsh Composer

A Lyke Wake Dirge

A Lyke Wake Dirge (2010)                                                              Roger Marsh


I composed this piece for The 24 to perform on their first tour of China in April 2010.  The premiere was given in Beijing. The anonymous poem A Lyke Wake Dirge (from the 17th century or earlier) is well known and has been set by many other composers (notably Britten and Stravinsky); I chose it because the Chinese commissioners specifically asked for something ‘English’. There are eleven verses describing the journey of the soul after death. Each verse includes the refrain:

Every night and all, And Christ receive thy soul

The song describes the soul’s journey through a harsh landscape like the Yorkshire Moors, mentioning places like ‘Thorny Moor’ (Whinnie Muir) and ‘Bridge of Dread’ (Brig o’Dread), and explains that if the deceased has led a good life the passage will be easy, but if not, the passage will be very difficult:

‘If ever thou gavest silver and gold, At Brig o’Dread thou’lt find foothold.

 But if silver and gold thou gavest none, Down thou tumblest to Hell flame’