When Copland was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the early twenties, one of his assignments was to compose a piece for flute and clarinet. He came upon a poem by the 17th century English poet Richard Barnfield and decided to add a voice part to the Boulanger assignment. Copland explained: "The poem had the simplicity and tenderness that moved me to attempt to evoke that poignant expression musically." As It Fell. . . had its premiere in Paris in 1924.
As it fell upon a day In the merry month of May, Sitting in a pleasant shade Which a grove of myrtles made, Beasts did leap and birds did sing, Trees did grow and plants did spring; Everything did banish moan Save the Nightingale alone: She, poor bird as all forlorn Leaned her breast up-till a thorn, And there sung the dolefull’st ditty, That to hear it was great pity. Fie, fie, fie! now would she cry; Tereu, Tereu! by and by; That to hear her so complain Scarce I could from tears refrain; For her griefs so lively shown Made me think upon mine own. Ah! thought I, thou mourn’st in vain, None takes pity on thy pain: Senseless trees they cannot hear thee, Ruthless beasts they will not cheer thee: King Pandion he is dead, All thy friends are lapp’d in lead; All thy fellow birds do sing Careless of thy sorrowing: Even so, poor bird, like thee, None alive will pity me.
Richard Barnfield (17th c.)
Glenn Gould - Glenn Gould - Copland, As It Fell Upon a Day (OFFICIAL)
Aaron Copland's "As It Fell Upon A Day" Stephen Clark -- Clarinet (1977)