A musical dramatization of Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles for Soprano & Piano.

Tess - A New Musical Adaptation

A Musical Dramatization of Thomas Hardy's Novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles for Soprano and Piano

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It tells the tragic story as seen through Tess’s eyes. Follow Tess from her first sighting of Angel Clare at the Marlott May Dance, to her time working for and being seduced by the shameful Alec d’Uberville. Watch her fall in love at Talbothay’s Dairy only to end up working in the desolate Flint-Coomb Ash. See how Tess braves each hardship and eventually comes to peace with herself in the final haunting scene.

Florence Cain, Soprano

Derek Rodgers, Piano

Music by Derek Rodgers

Text taken from Tess of the D’Ubervilles and adapted by the composer Derek Rodgers

TESS originally started out as a musical dramatisation for narrator, actors, female voice choir and orchestra. Then a close friend of mine, Jeffery Wilson, suggested that maybe it should be an opera. I reworked the piece adding a full chorus and a number of solo parts and had to admit that it was much more effective dramatically. I then had the idea of creating a much shorter piece that kept the essence and dramatic nature of the opera but was more practical in terms of performance. This version of TESS, for Soprano & Piano was the outcome. 

It follows the same scenes as those described in Hardy’s novel:

Village of Marlott - “lay amid the north-eastern undulations of the beautiful Vale of Blakemore” -Tess’s home. She is a young girl, with a “freshness …..a fine picturesque country girl” 

                May Dance

                Death of the Horse

                Tess confesses to her mother about Alec D’Uberville

                Baptism and death of SORROW

Talbothay Dairy - “On a thyme-scented, bird-hatching morning in May” Tess goes to work at this Dairy and represents a happy time in her life. “Her hopes mingled with the sunshine …..as she bounded along against the soft south wind. She heard a pleasant voice in every breeze and in every bird’s note seemed to lurk a joy.”

                Tess the milk maid

                Falling in love

                Tess’s reticence

                The proposal

                The marriage

                The confessions

                O have mercy upon me

Flintcomb-Ash - “The stubborn soil around her showed plainly enough that the kind of labour in demand here was of the roughest kind”. A desolate place set in winter mirroring Tess feelings.

                Working the swede fields

                The return of Alec D’Uberville

                The Letter of desperation

                O why have you treated me so monstrously?

Sandbourne -“a fashionable watering-place” - Tess is now living at “The Herons”, a villa that “stood in its own grounds”.

                The husband’s search for Tess

                It is as it should be

                The final outcome

I read Tess of the d’Ubervilles when I was a teenager and was immediately taken with Hardy’s descriptive writing and, of course, the tragic story line; made more poignant given the age and initial simplicity of the main character. Although there have been numerous films, adaptations for television and the stage and an Italian opera (first performed in Naples but the run was cut short by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius!) there has never been, as far as I know, a version seen through Tess’s eyes for voice and piano.

Tess’s character is musically represented by large intervalic jumps (6th’s & 7ths). These lend an expressive as well as a despairing air to the music.

The ringing of bells feature at times, sometimes as a death toll with repeated notes in the bass, there is a representation of a peel of bells to celebrate Tess’s marriage and the piece ends with a single note bell in the piano.

Listen out for the crowing of a cock. It occurs three times in the novel and is suggested it may be an ill omen. This is one of a number of references by Hardy to the superstitions of country folk.

Religion and the simplicity of country folk run as themes through the novel. There are church references in the music, in the afore mentioned bells, in hymn like passages and in a chant sung by Tess.

The folk element is represented in rustic, folk tune like passages with modal tendencies. There is dance like music, the use of drone bass and bare chords. These elements become distorted with the bare chords becoming despairing and the dance quality grotesquely changed into a jazz like passage representing the shameful Alec Durberfield. Perhaps the pivotal point is Tess writing a letter to her husband, this is a waltz like aria but full of pathos.

Tickets available from Cramphorn Theatre: https://www.lunchtimeconcerts.org/diary-spring-2020

Derek Rodgers can be contacted on: dereknrodgers@me.com

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