The Highwayman

The Highwayman (2004)

TTBB a cappella
Commissioned by and written for the Bowling Green University Men's Chorus, Dr. William Skoog, Director

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Performance notes:

The Highwayman is an ill-fated love story, much like Romeo and Juliet. The Highwayman is a robber, but he has fallen in love with an innkeeper’s daughter, Bess, and she has fallen in love with him. They have planned their meeting for midnight, and our hero knows that agents of the law are pursuing him. The task for the singers here is to convey a sense of drama and suspense to the audience. This should be done through a clear sense of character and commitment to the text. The music for each stanza follows the character’s motivations and emotions. For example, in measures 163-183, Bess is trying to get her hands on the gun’s trigger, but instead of having this section be minor and dismal, it is exciting and major. Bess is hoping to get her finger on the trigger – she is willing and wants to sacrifice her life to save her lover. In measures 123-152, we see the King’s men have entered the innkeeper’s house, eaten his food, and have confined Bess to her bed. This section is foreboding for our two lovers and determines the outcome of the story. The story must be told with conviction and enthusiasm in order to draw in the listener and generate clear images for the audience. Be a singer, be an actor, and be a storyteller.

Timothy C. Takach, 02.04

Text:

The Highwayman

PART ONE
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding--
Riding--riding--
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of claret velvet, and breeches of brown doeskin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked

"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize tonight,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the
West.

PART TWO
He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red coat troop came marching--
marching--marching--
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say--
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? This horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him - with her death.

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew gray to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
The landlords black-eyed daughter,
Had watched her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
with the white road smoking behind him, and his rapier brain dished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat.
When they shot him down in the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

Alfred Noyes