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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

On the Underground Set No. 1 (On gratitude, love & madness) (1994),
commissioned by Canzonetta, with funds from Sainsbury Choir of the Year Competition
Text Writer
James Berry, Sheenagh Pugh, W B Yeats, Stevie Smith, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus a cappella / + 1 instrument
Year Composed
10 Minutes
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Programme Note
Thea Musgrave On the Underground Set No. 1 (On gratitude, love & madness) (1994),

There is one unexpected pleasure taking the London Underground (and, more recently, also the New York City subway): one's eye may alight on a poem placed amongst the pervasive and numbing advertisements, and, for a moment, the imagination takes wing.

The six poems selected for this work are all to be found in 100 Poems on the Underground. The first and last, Benediction by James Berry and Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh are expressions of gratitude. The second poem Her Anxiety by Yeats, describes the inevitable death of true love. In the third poem Stevie Smith's Lady Singleton follows her own very eccentric ways, in contrast to Adrienne Rich's Aunt Jennifer of the fifth poem, who is trapped by the deadly weight of convention. In the third poem, Much Madness is divinest Sense, Emily Dickinson tells of how anybody flouting the majority opinion is "straightway dangerous and handled with a chain".

  • Ensemble
    New York Virtuoso Singers
    Michael York (narrator)
    Harold Rosembaum
"On the Underground," (is) an attractive a cappella setting of texts drawn from an anthology of poetry that has appeared in London subway cars…the composer chose carefully and unified short poems by James Berry, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich and others, with a cohesive musical style. That style featured tightly woven harmonies and staggered entrances at the same point in the poem, creating the impression of music stretching from within itself, sound blooming from within sound.
Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times,05/06/2003
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