The silver swan
is probably the most famous madrigal
by Orlando Gibbons
, and is scored for 5 voices (SATBarB) (in most sources, though some give SSATB). It is based on the legend that mute swans
sing only just before death (see swan song
Gibbons' words are probably his own composition:
- 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 published in Gibbons' First Set of Madrigals and Motets of 5 parts (1612).
Commenting on the musical form, Phillip 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' last line has been taken as his comment on the demise of the English madrigal form or, more generally, on the loss of the late Elizabethan musical tradition.
Phillip Ledger (ed) The Oxford Book of English Madrigals
(1978) Oxford University Press, and co-issued recording, by Pro Cantione Antiqua