Charms and Blessings / voice & viola

woman praying silhoutte.jpg
woman praying silhoutte.jpg

Charms and Blessings / voice & viola


voice and viola

  • Premiere: 14 May 2006 / Roerich Museum, NYC / Gilda Lyons, voice & Ann Roggen, viola
  • Instrumentation: voice and viola
  • Duration: 13'
  • Text: Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde


Also available for voice and piano.



Lady Jane Elgee Wilde (1826-1896), who went by the pen name “Speranza,” was an unconventional voice, a flamboyant personality, and an accomplished poet of her time, although she is overshadowed in literary history by her son, Oscar Wilde.  A staunch supporter of the nationalist movement in Ireland, she devoted much of her life to collecting the legends and folktales of her native land. 

This cycle of songs, commissioned by violist Ann Roggen, draws from three works included in Lady Wilde’s 1887 publication Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland.  The first song of the cycle, “A Charm for the Night-Fire,” outlines a spell for curing a fever, tracing both the patient’s and the healer’s actions.  The second song, “A Charm for Safety,” is said in preparation for a long journey to offer protection against ‘the Evil One;’ it calls upon a pizzicato viola to “Pluck ten blades of yarrow.” Central to these two songs is an image universally associated with the human experience: the fight against sickness, ill fortune and death.  The third and final song of the cycle, however, centers on a related but distinct human experience: the mourning of loss.  “A Blessing” is a gentle celebration of a long life, now ended.  A drone in the viola is joined by the voice in its low range to create a composite sound evoking a Tuvan throat song in this lullaby for the dead.  – Gilda Lyons



A Charm for the Night-Fire

While the patient’s arms are lifted in the form of a cross, and water is sprinkled on his head, these words are spoken:

"God save thee, Michael, archangel! God save thee!

"What aileth thee, O man?"

"A headache and a sickness and a weakness of the heart. O Michael, archangel, canst thou cure me, O angel of the Lord?"

"May three things cure thee, O man: 

May the shadow of Christ fall on thee! 

May the garment of Christ cover thee!

May the breath of Christ breathe on thee! 

And when I come again thou wilt be healed."


A Charm for Safety

Pluck ten blades of yarrow. 

Keep nine, and cast the tenth away for tithe to the spirits. 

Put the nine in your stocking, under the heel of the right foot, when going a journey.

And so, the Evil One will have no power over you.


A Blessing

O aged old woman of the grey locks, may eight hundred blessings twelve times over be on thee! 

Mayest thou be free from desolation, O woman of the aged frame! And may many tears fall on thy grave.


                                                                                                   - Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde