Moonlight on a Midnight Stream


 SATB vocal quartet and piano–30′

A romantic entertainment for vocal quartet and piano based on the lives and writings of Shelley, Byron, Mary Shelley and their circle.

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Moonlight on a Midnight Stream

A Romantic Entertainment for SATB vocal quartet and piano
Libretto based on writings by G. G. Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley & E. J. Trelawny
30′ duration
Commissioned by The Schubert Club and Vern and Phyllis Sutton in celebration of the opening of the Ted Mann Concert Hall.
First performance: October 8, 1995, Ted Mann Hall, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The performers on that occasion were:

Jean Del Santo, soprano
Glenda Maurice, mezzo-soprano
Clifton Ware, tenor
Lawrence Weller, baritone
Margo Garrett, piano


Claire Clairmont, soprano
Mary Shelley, mezzo-soprano
Percy Bysshe Shelley, tenor
Lord Byron, baritone

I.    Invocation
II.    Waltz Brillante
III.    Albé’s Song
IV.    A Ghost Story
V.    The Castle of Chillon
VI.    Sailing to the Madhouse
VII.    Duet
VIII.    Mutability
IX.    Shelley’s Immolation
X.    Valediction

Program Note

Moonlight on a Midnight Stream is not exactly a song cycle, nor is it a chamber opera, so I have called it an “entertainment.” The characters: poets Byron and Shelley, Shelley’s not-yet-second wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her half-sister, who came to call herself Claire Clairmont. (Claire is a fascinating figure, a women who pursued Byron—who detested her—and gave birth to his child, living into old age and finding a central place as the former lover of a famous poet in Henry James’ Aspern Papers. ) The legends which surround them are more fabulous than lives should be—flight to Switzerland to escape Mary’s father Godwin; their summer in 1815 on Lake Geneva, with excursions to castles and mountain valleys in the area; the entertaining ghost stories which led to Mary’s Frankenstein; years later, Shelley’s death in a squall off the coast of Italy, followed by the burning of his body on the beach, recounted years later by Edward Trelawny. Other details enter into the score of Moonlight which have some ground in fact. Byron did indeed amuse his companions with songs from his travels in Albania. The waltz, which had invaded Vienna as early as 1754, had become a craze by the turn of the century. And there is an intriguing account of the pianist Steibelt in Prague who “had with him an Englishwoman whom he introduced as wife and who played the tambourine, accompanying him with it,” Steibelt’s friend so “electrified the gentlefolk” that “the wish likewise to manipulate this instrument stirred in all the ladies.”

I have placed the introspective Shelley at the center of the work as a sort of tragic hero, and his words are often sung by the other characters. The texts are culled from a variety of sources: three different poems, a letter to Thomas Peacock about the poets’ visit to the castle of Chillon, Frankenstein, Chapter V, Mary Shelley’s journal, and Trelawny’s Last Days of Shelley and Byron. And I did my own research, crossing one of Montana’s many Rock Creeks at midnight, in the company of friends, to catch the gushing black water—and the moonlight struggling to be reflected off its oily surface. –DET

Additional information

Weight .5625 lbs