Dean Burry’s The Highwayman
Alfred Noyes’ narrative poem The Highwayman made an early impact on me when I discovered it in a faded book in my elementary school library. I remember committing it to memory for a school concert, delivering the sumptuous descriptive language with all the drama a 10-year-old imagination could muster. The poem stayed with me since that time.
Despite its slightly “old-fashioned” nature, it has endured as one of the most popular poems of the twentieth century. The story tells of a dashing robber riding through a stormy night to reach an English country inn for a tryst with his true love, Bess. The robber is betrayed to the British Army and Bess is forced to make a choice between her lover’s safety and her own brutal death.
The musical ensemble is inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal work Pierrot lunaire, op. 21 (1912). Both works are narrated, divided into a number of short sections, and employ the moon as their central image. While the music of The Highwayman is often influenced by the atonality of that earlier work, it also veers at times into other referential styles as the drama of the narrative dictates.
- The wind was a torrent of darkness
- He’d a French cocked-hat
- Over the cobbles he clattered
- And dark, in the dark old inn-yard
- “One kiss, my bonnie sweetheart”
- He rose upright in the stirrups
- He did not come in the dawning
- They said no word to the landlord
- They had tied her up to attention
- She twisted her hands behind her
- The tip of one finger touched it
- Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence
- He turned; he spurred away to the west
- Back, he spurred like a madman
- And still of a winter’s night