The Silver Swan (song)

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The Silver Swan is probably the most famous madrigal by Orlando Gibbons. It is scored for 5 voices (in most sources, soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T), baritone (Bar) and bass (B), although some specify SSATB instead) and presents the legend that swans sing only just before their deaths (see swan song).


Gibbons's words for this madrigal were perhaps his own creation, though they were more likely written by his musical patron, Sir Christopher Hatton 1581–1619), who chose the texts for many of Gibbons's madrigals. (This piece may have been composed around 1611, at Hatton's home in Ely Place, in the Holborn district of London.) This madrigal's words are:

The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,
when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
"Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
 More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise."

The song was first published in Gibbons's First Set of Madrigals and Motets of 5 parts (1612). (Gibbons dedicated this collection to Hatton.)

Commenting on the musical form, Philip Ledger notes that "in common with the lute-song, and unlike any true madrigal, it has two musical sections, the second one repeated, and new words are provided for this repeat".

Gibbons's last line has been taken as a comment on the demise of the English madrigal form or, more generally, on the loss of the late Elizabethan musical tradition.[citation needed]

Though composed as a madrigal, The Silver Swan is, in modern times, often performed as a song for chamber choir. It is also performed as a song for soprano and viol consort.

Other settings of the poem[edit]

The words to this madrigal have been set to music by the following composers and groups:


  1. ^ a b c "The Silver Swan". The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Page. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  2. ^ "The Silver Swan". Peer Music, The Global Independent. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "Qntal V: Silver Swan – Qntal". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 July 2016. 


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