Programme Note: The song At the Court of the Poisoned Rose was commissioned by the countertenor, James Huw-Jeffries. It is based upon a long prose poem by the Scottish poetess Marion Angus (1866-1946). Published under the title of Alas! Poor Queen, the poem narrates the tragic story of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was manipulated by the political ambitions of those around her. Given the work’s length and sectional nature, the song is more akin to a ‘Dramatic Scena’. The music opens mysteriously, setting a nostalgic atmosphere that seeks to mirror the queen’s confinement and sense of resignation. This is followed by a contrasting section that conveys her love of life’s trivialities and her capricious nature – it is quicker in tempo. These two ideas are subsequently developed and reshaped. At the words ‘she rode through Liddesdale with a song’ I have adapted an aire by the Elizabethan composer Philip Rosseter and interpolated material from the previous sections. The emotional climax of the work comes on the poignant words ‘Queens should be cold and wise’.
In spite of this, the lighthearted and earthly bound music returns reminding us that the Queen only ‘loved little things and red-legged partridges, and the golden fishes of the Duc de Guise’.
- Ian Venables
Duration: c. 6 minutes