From the Sleevenotes: The Nightingale and the Rose

Sleevenotes from PFCD197 The Nightingale and the Rose – Music by Paul Corfield Godfrey


In The Happy Prince, his first collection of ‘fairy stories’ for children, Oscar Wilde generally followed the lead of his model Hans Christian Andersen and furnished his tragically doomed characters with endings of spiritual uplift: even the Selfish Giant and the Happy Prince himself are posthumously redeemed. But in his second volume The House of Pomegranates the trials and tribulations of his characters are deprived of any such sustenance. The Star-Child, the Fisherman and his Soul, and the dwarf in The Birthday of the Infanta all come to meet their fates without any prospect of salvation either in the present or the afterlife. And the same applies in the first collection to the Nightingale in The Nightingale and the Rose, whose self-sacrifice in the cause of the Love in which she so fervently believes is in the end proved to be without any benefit either to herself or to others. Indeed, the character of the Student, whose utterances both begin and conclude the story, remains not only embittered by his experiences but even totally ignorant and uncomprehending of the tragic events that his doomed roman- tic passion has set in train.

It is notable that the plot of The Nightingale and the Rose is far more allegorical than any other of Wilde’s fairy tales, which is the reason that I have subtitled this work “a fable”. Wilde’s Student and his callous Beloved are not even convinced by the dream of Love that they have constructed for themselves. The Student regards the artistry of the Nightingale with the callow cynicism of a jaded critic, and cannot even be bothered to actually listen to the singing by which she aims to assist him to acquire the much desired red rose, lying instead asleep in his bed and regarding the sudden appearance of the flower as a quixotic stroke of fortune. His Beloved is concerned almost exclusively with the mundane events of ‘reality’, conscious above all of the status of her lovers and their ability to provide for her physical needs. Against these two materialists the Nightingale’s delusions stand out in greater relief; although she expresses her emotions and desires in lyrical effusion, when it comes to the actual event of her self-sacrifice she can find no words to declare her meaning and Wilde in his text resorts to placing passages of his most purple prose into the mouth of his narrator.

In the many operas which have already been written on the subject of Wilde’s play – it is a subject that cries out for musical setting – composers and their librettists have resorted to all kinds of expedients to provide lyrical material for their Nightingales to sing, importing poetry from Wilde himself or other contemporary sources, or adding new material from the narrative itself and even further afield. It seems to me that these efforts are inevitably doomed; we cannot supply the text for the Nightingale’s song, any more than Wilde could himself. In this setting, the song itself is entirely wordless, and the depiction of its meaning is assigned to a chorus who provide a series of romantic descriptions taken from Wilde’s own prose-poetic narrative. The song itself, like Wilde’s account, divides into three increasingly elaborate verses in which the final clinching section describes “the Love that is perfected by death, the Love that dies not in the tomb.” It is this melody that returns after the Nightingale herself is dead, firstly as an outburst in the funeral march which accompanies the rising of the sun, and then finally as an echo following the final dismissive comments of the Student: “What a silly thing Love is!” It is this purely musical development which provides the spiritual redemption that the story itself so conspicuously lacks.

By comparison with The Nightingale and the Rose, my other Wilde setting The Sphinx included on this disc has no ulterior meaning at all. Wilde himself described his lengthy poem as an exercise in the discovery of abstruse words and far-fetched rhyming schemes, and in making my abridgement of his text I have concentrated purely on the passages which conjure up exotic images. In his evocation of roving lions and tigers the reader of Wilde is perhaps reminded of the author’s “feasting with panthers” which led to his ultimate downfall; but here the singers simply relish the sense of danger without seeking to underline the darker undercurrents of the words themselves.

The text of the Hymnus Mysticus, on the other hand, certainly takes itself very serious- ly, with words drawn from the poetic effusions of Aleister Crowley who clearly mod- elled his style of writing closely on such decadent predecessors as Wilde himself and Alfred Douglas. In making my selection of verses I have avoided any of the pagan excesses and even more sinister occultisms which led to Crowley’s reputation as the “wickedest man in England” – instead there is a pantheistic worship of natural phenom- ena and the boundless ambitions of the human spirit. Unlike The Nightingale and the Rose, with its recurring melodies and closely argued motivic development of themes, both The Sphinx and the Hymnus Mysticus indulge in a riotous profusion of musical ideas, and it is certainly no mere coincidence that the climactic passages of both works are closely allied in triumphant progression. Similarly both works dissolve at the end into amorphous meditations which are a world removed from the stern but subdued twelve-tone chord that concludes The Nightingale and the Rose.


Paul Corfield Godfrey was born in London and after a period of residence in Ireland now lives in Wales, studying composition and conducting at various times with Alan Bush and David Wynne. His compositions include four symphonies: various orchestral, chamber and instrumental works: songs and choral works: operas, including The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric and Arcturus, both performed in Cardiff and elsewhere: and a cycle of epic scenes based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s posthumous novel The Silmarillion, the largest work of classical music written in Wales in the twentieth century. Other works have been performed in London and elsewhere in throughout the UK, Hungary, America, Australia and New Zealand. His manuscript scores are lodged at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. He has appeared as a performer on radio and television, and also reviews live performances and recordings for MusicWeb International.


1] A great mysterious garden shrouded in many shadows. It is dusk: deep, silent dusk. To the left, a great holm oak, deep myrtle green, soars into the sky. Towards the right a sundial, with a rose tree behind it. On the extreme right, the walls of the house whence opens a large window. Another rose tree stands towards the left, under the shadow of the holm; but the largest and most mysterious rose tree lies across the back of the stage like a great spreading portent of ill fate. On the grass beneath the holm oak the Student is discerned, lying with his head in his hands so that it seems that he sleeps; but then he stirs, and his eyes fill with tears

2] The STUDENT She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses; but in all my garden there is no red rose. No red rose in all my garden! Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine; yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.

3] The NIGHTINGALE [from her nest in the holm, wonderingly to herself] Here, at last, is the true lover! Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not; night after night have

I told his story to the stars, and now I see him. His hair is dark as the hyacinth, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her seal upon his brow.

The STUDENT The Prince gives a ball tomorrow night, and my love will be of the company. If I bring her a red rose, she will dance with me till dawn. If I bring her a red rose, then I will hold her in my arms, and she will lean her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be clasped in mine. But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by. She will have no heed of me, and my heart shall break.

The NIGHTINGALE Here, indeed, is the true lover! What I sing, he suffers; what to me is joy, to him is pain. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals, Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market place. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor is it weighed out in the balance for gold.
The STUDENT The musicians will sit in their balcony, and play upon their stringed instru- ments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin. She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng about her. But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her!

4] The GREEN LIZARD Why is he crying? The BUTTERFLY Why indeed?
The DAISY Why indeed?
The NIGHTINGALE He is weeping for a red rose.
The GREEN LIZARD, the BUTTERFLY and the DAISY For a red rose? How very ridiculous!
The GREEN LIZARD Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!

The Student has slowly subsided weeping upon the grass once more, and remains still.
Night begins to fall ever more deeply over the garden. The Nightingale spreads her wings and flies forth from the holm over the garden, lighting upon the tree beneath the oak

5] The NIGHTINGALE Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.
The WHITE ROSE TREE My roses are white, as white as the foam of the sea, and whiter than the snow upon the mountain. But go to my brother who grows round the old sundial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.

So the Nightingale flies to the rose that grows by the sundial

The NIGHTINGALE Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.
The YELLOW ROSE TREE My roses are yellow, as yellow as the hair of the mermaiden who sits upon an amber throne, and yellower than the daffodil that blooms in the meadow before the mower comes with his scythe. But go to my brother who grows beneath the Student’s window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.

So the Nightingale flies to the great tree: the grey, mysterious and ominous tree beneath the window of the house at the back of the stage

6] The NIGHTINGALE Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.
The RED ROSE TREE My roses are red, as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great corals that wave and wave in the ocean cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.
The NIGHTINGALE One rose is all I want, one red rose! Is there no way by which I can get it?
The RED ROSE TREE There is a way; but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.
The NIGHTINGALE Tell it to me; I am not afraid.
The RED ROSE TREE If you want a red rose, you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and your life-blood will flow into my veins, and become mine.

7] The NIGHTINGALE Death is a great price to pay for a red rose; and Life is very sweet to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the sun in his chariot of gold, and the moon in her chariot of pearl. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is greater than Life, and what is heart of a nightingale compared to the heart of a man?

She flies soaring into the air, and sweeps over the garden like a shadow. When she reaches the oak, she stands high above the Student

Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s blood. All that I ask of you is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though he is wise; and mightier than Power, though he is mighty. Flame-coloured are his wings, and coloured like flame is his body. His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankin- cense.

8] The STUDENT [looks uncomprehendingly up into the branches] She has form, that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks only of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good!

9] He has risen and walked slowly towards the house, and now he goes in. Silence descends upon the night and upon the garden

10] VOICES in the TREES The Moon shines ever more brightly in the Heavens; and the Nightingale flies to the Rose Tree, and sets her breast against the thorn; and the cold crystal stars lean down and listen. And she sings first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl.

A vision appears in the centre of the garden: a naked youth and maiden who walk through the garden with graceful movements. Tenderly they embrace one another with tentative movements, then more passionate embraces: they slowly disappear into the darkness once more

And slowly a rose begins to blossom; pale at first, as the mist that hangs over the river, pale as the wings of the morning, and silver as the feet of the dawn, pale as the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, as the shadow of the rose upon a water pool.

The RED ROSE TREE Press closer, little Nightingale! or the Day will come before the Rose is finished.
VOICES in the TREES And so the Nightingale presses closer against the thorn, and her song grows louder as she sings of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and maid.

The two ideal lovers appear once again, embracing tenderly as before, and once more vanish into the night

And a flush of pink comes into the leaves of the rose, like the flush on the face of the Bride- groom when he kisses the lips of the Bride. The RED ROSE TREE Press closer, little Nightingale! or the Day will come before the Rose is finished.

VOICES in the TREES And so the Nightingale presses closer against the thorn, and the thorn touches her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shoots through her. Bitter, bitter is the pain, and wilder, wilder grows her song, for the sings of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

The ideal lovers again appear; this time the man supports the woman with his arm. A red light falls on the scene; the woman falls into the man’s arms. He bears her to the ground, and there lies with her

And the rose becomes crimson, like the rose of the crimson sky, like the ruby crimson of the heart.

Red light floods the scene, tinting the rose crimson; the two lovers appear to sink into the earth

But the Nightingale’s voice grows fainter, and her wings begin to beat, and a film comes over her eyes. Fainter and fainter grows her song, as it were something choking her in the throat.

11] Then she gives one last burst of music. [Increasing moonlight] The white Moon heareth it, and she forgets the dawn, and lingers on in the sky. The red rose heareth it, and it trembles all over with ecstasy, and opens its petals to the cold morning air. Echo beareth it to the purple cav- erns in the hills, and wakes the sleeping shep- herds from their dreams. It floateth through the reeds of the river, and they bear its message to the sea.
The RED ROSE TREE Look! Look! The rose is finished now!
VOICES in the TREES But the Nightingale lies dead in the long grass, and the thorn is in her heart.

12] Stillness and darkness envelop the scene.

Day begins to dawn. The sun rises. The morning light shines into the garden, illuminating all with a silver radiance. And the rose too seems to glow, shedding forth a light of its own

13] The STUDENT [opens his window] Why, what a wonderful piece of luck! Here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in my life! It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name.

He comes forth from the house, and steps down to the rose; and reverently he plucks it. The Beloved enters the garden

You said that you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose! Here is the reddest rose in all the world. You will wear it tonight next your heart, and as we dance together it will tell you how I love you.
The BELOVED [frowns] I am afraid it will not go with my dress. And besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.
The STUDENT Well, upon my word, you are very ungrateful! [And he throws the rose down upon the ground, quite faded and its radiance extinguished ]
The BELOVED Ungrateful! I tell you what, you are very rude; and after all, who are you? Only a student. Why, I don’t believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain’s nephew has!

She turns on him in fury, and stamps viciously on the rose, grinding it into the dust with her heel. Then she turns her back on him and strides rapidly out. The Student stands stock still, as if turned to stone. There is a long silence

14] The STUDENT What a silly thing Love is! It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and as in this age to be practical is everything I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.

He returns back into the house. The garden glows in the daylight: but the rose has quite faded, and the Nightingale is invisible in the grass
OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)

The Sphinx

15] Away to Egypt! Only one God has ever died. Only one God has let his side be wounded by a soldier’s spear.
But these, thy lovers, are not dead. Still by the hundred cubit gate
dog-faced Anubis sits in state with lotus lilies for thy head.
Still from his chair of porphyry gaunt Memnon strains his lidless eyes,
and cries each yellow morning unto thee.
And Nilus with his broken horn lies in his black and oozy bed
and till thy coming will not spread his waters on the withering corn.
Your lovers are not dead, I know. They will rise up, and hear your voice
and clash their cymbals and rejoice and run to kiss thy mouth! And so,
set wings upon your argosies! Set horses to your ebon car!
Back to your Nile! or if you are grown sick of dead divinities
follow some roving lion’s spoor across the copper-coloured plain,
reach out and hale him by the mane and bid him be your paramour!
Couch by his side upon the grass and set your white teeth in his throat
and when you hear his dying note lash your long flanks of polished brass,
and take a tiger for your mate, whose amber sides are flecked with black,
and ride upon his gilded back in triumph through the Theban Gate,
and toy with him in amorous jests, and when he turns, and snarls, and gnaws,
O smite him with your jasper claws! and bruise him with your agate breasts!
OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)


16] Soprano solo and chorus

Mightiest self! Supreme in self-contentment! palpable, formless, infinite presentment
of thine own light in thine own soul’s eclipse! Let thy chaste lips
sweep through the aether guarding thee,
touch, draw me with thy kiss
into thine own deep bliss,
into thy sleep, thy life, thine imperishable crown.

17] Baritone solo

All things which are complete and solitary;
the circling moon, the inconsistent drift of stars, the central systems. Burn they, change they, vary?
Theirs is no motion beyond the eternal bars. Solitary are the winter woods and caves not habited,
and O! most lone
the melancholy mountain shrine and throne,
where far above all things God sits, the ultimate alone.

18] Soprano solo and chorus

O soul of tears! for never has fallen like dew thy word,
nor is thy shape showed, nor as wisdom’s heard
thy crying about the city,
in the home where is no pity,
but in the desolate halls and desolate vales of sand.

19] Baritone solo and chorus

I sate upon the mossy promontory,
where the cascade cleft not his mother rock, but swept in whirlwind lightning foam and glory to lure and lock
marvellous eddies in its wild caress;
all earth took up the sound,
being in one tune securely bound,
even as a star, became the soul of silence most profound.

20] Soprano solo and chorus

Where thou has trodden, I have trod!
I have no fear to tread thy far irremeable way, beyond the paths and palaces of day,
beyond the night, beyond the skies,
beyond Eternity’s tremendous gate,
beyond the immanent miracle.

21] Soloists and chorus
O secret self of things!
I have not feet nor wings
except to follow far beyond Heaven and Earth and Hell,
until I fix my mood, and being in thee,
I grow the thing I contemplate: that selfsame solitude.

A note from Volante Opera Productions

We freely admit to you that this recording is not live or a studio recording. We did not have the means to employ a full orchestra and chorus so instead we have opted for orchestral samples and recording each individual singer in isolation. With patience in post processing this can be brought very close to the real thing and we hope that any imperfections in this will be forgiven in the interest of getting this piece heard. Editing and mastering was done in close collaboration with Paul to attempt to get this recording as near to his vision as we could within our limitations. The purpose of this Demo Recording is simply to get the piece heard. The ideal would of course be to hear it performed by a full orchestra and chorus but until this happens we hope that this recording will serve.

Volante Opera Productions

Volante Opera Productions was founded by Julian Boyce in 1999, originally bringing opera gala performances to Wales and England. Our main aims are not only to take live music into the community but also through our recordings enable a wider audience to hear varied and exciting repertoire that has previously gone unrecorded or unheard. In addition, over the years, Volante Opera Productions has helped to raise money for charities, doing performances in dementia homes, schools and churches. Also, our Musical Advent Calendar videos, recorded in the lockdowns of 2020, raised thousands of pounds for Shelter Cymru.

CD Credits

We would like to offer our thanks to all of the performers for giving up their precious free time so willingly to help us bring this project to life.

Production and engineering: Volante Opera Productions ©2022

Music published by: Zarathustra Music ©2022

Artwork by: Kimbo ©2022

Texts: Oscar Wilde & Aleister Crowley

Booklet and notes: Volante Opera Productions and Paul Corfield Godfrey ©2022

All artists appear by arrangement with Welsh National Opera

Composer’s website:

Performer biographies and more information: