Vers de Lune Anthony Gilbert

Vers de Lune cover
Text/libretto by
Aloysius Bertrand
16 mins

Voice, accompanied Voice(s) & 1-3 Instruments

1 Soprano, 1 Flute(=alto flute=bass flute), 1 Percussion, 1 Violoncello

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Score and parts ISMN 57020-128-0 £31.00 Buy now

soprano, flute, percussion and cello

Programme note

A song-cycle to poems of Aloysius Bertrand. 

Aloysius (or more correctly Louis) Bertrand lived at the same time as Chopin, fought a long battle with the same disease (tuberculosis), and died in Paris two years after him. The Gothic symbolism of his huge prose poem Gaspard de la Nuit has haunted me (sometimes literally) since adolescence, but only quite recently have I felt ready to tackle any sort of setting of its bizarre, layered, highly suggestive fantasies.  The texts of this cycle of five songs are taken, with minor adaptations, from Book 3 - La Nuit et ses Prestiges .  The title is taken from the little moon-verse at the heart of the cycle, so it’s a pun on the word vers:  ‘moonworms’ or ‘moonwords’, but not quite ‘moonwards’.  The imagery is less Parisian than Dijonnais, this town having been where Bertrand spent his adolescent years.  My setting is in the original French;  I’ve made the following translation in case of need. 

Vers de Lune  was commissioned by the contemporary ensemble Psappha with funds generously provided by the Ida Carroll Trust and the Holst Foundation. It was first performed by Alison Wells and Psappha in Liverpool in March 2000.  (A first performance of part of Ondine was given by Alison Wells and John Turner at the Bridgewater Hall in September 1998.)

                                                                                                                                                   A. G.    

Moonlight (1)

             Oh, how sweet it is, when the night hour throbs in the bell-tower, to watch the moon, with its nose like a golden sovereign!


The Dwarf

             Sitting up in bed, I trapped in the shade of its curtains this furtive butterfly, hatched from a moonbeam or a drop of dew -


            A pulsing moth which, to free its wings from between my fingers, paid me a scented ransom!


            Suddenly the little vagabond flew off, leaving in my groin - horror of horrors! - a monstrous twisted maggot with a human face!



            “Where is thy soul, that I may mount upon it?”  “My soul, poor palfrey, lame from the labours of the day, is resting upon a golden litter of dreams.”        


            And it fled in fear, my soul, across the pallid web of twilight, over dark horizons toothed with dark gothic bell-towers.


            But the dwarf, dangling from it in its whinnying flight, wound himself up like a spindle in the distaff-threads of its white mane.


The Lunatic

             The moon was combing its hair with an ebony comb which showered the woods, hills and meadows with a silvery rain of glow-worms.



             “Can you hear?  Can you hear?  It is I, it is Ondine who sweeps these drops of water up against the ringing diamonds of your window-pane, lit up by wan moonbeams;  while here, in her gown of watered silk, stands the lady of the castle, gazing  from her balcony at the beauty of the starry night and the sleeping lake.


            “Each ripple is a water-sprite swimming with the current, each current a pathway snaking towards my palace, and my palace is built of waters, in the depths of the lake,  in the triangle of fire, earth and air.


            “Can you hear?  Can you hear?  My father whips the frog-croaking water with a branch of green alder, and my sisters caress the cool islands of weeds, lilies and gladioli with their arms of foam, or make fun of the drooping bearded willow and its show of angling!”



            My song once murmured, I begged him to take my ring upon his finger and become an Ondine’s spouse, and to visit me in my palace and become the king of the lakes.


            And when he replied that he loved a mortal woman, sulky and scorned I wept a few tears, burst into a peal of laughter, and vanished in a shower of droplets which streamed white down the blue-tinted glass of his long windows.


Moonlight (2)

             And to me, it seemed - so dazed was I with fever - that the moon grimaced at me, and stuck out its tongue like a hanged man!


Translation © Anthony Gilbert   

Alison Wells and Psappha, Liverpool Hope University, 15th March 2000
  • 15 Mar 2005 |

    Cornerstone, Liverpool Hope University


    Ruth Kerr (soprano), Psappha cond. Nicholas Kok

  • 5 Mar 2005 |

    The Great Hall, The Cornerstone, Liverpool


    Ruth Kerr (soprano), Psappha cond. Nicholas Kok

  • 4 Mar 2005 |

    Manchester University


    Ruth Kerr (soprano), Psappha cond. Nicholas Kok

  • 28 Feb 2005 |

    Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Manchester University


    Ruth Kerr (soprano), Psappha cond. Nicholas Kok