To Timarion

Program Notes:

To Timarion is an exquisite expression of unconsummated ardour. It is heartache – desire – unworthiness – and hope – hope that one day a concealed and forbidden love may be illuminated from the shadows of remembrance. It is meant to be sung not with despair, but with a rapturous intimacy. Timarion appears in the amatory epigrams collected by Meleager of Gadara in and about the 1st century. It was said that her beauty captured the affections of Eros himself. As hetaera, it is likely that she was trained to play the lyre or harp, an impression that is imitated in the piano accompaniment. The melody itself is built upon the heptatonic phrygian major scale, which with its striking bII and raised 3rd (and alluring occasional raised 7th) is reminiscent of Middle Eastern sonorities.

Conductor Notes:

I am a huge fan of the music of Sheldon Rose, a Toronto-based pianist and composer. To Timarion (2015) is written for SSAA choir and piano with a soprano solo at the opening and close. This is a gentle and passionate piece, influenced in melodic shape and ornaments by the music of the Middle East. It is not complicated to learn, but full of opportunities to shape phrases and word stress in service of the poem. The choir and I enjoyed learning and performing it very much. The poem is best suited to adults, not children. Note that, on the linked YouTube track, we are singing in E minor, not the original F minor. It had to do with the key relationship between this and the piece that followed. I would definitely recommend the intended key of F minor.

Composer / Arranger Notes:

Marjorie Pickthall’s poetry is so inherently lyrical, musical, and evokes timeless beauty. Viola Whitney, class of 1913 at Victoria College at the University of Toronto wrote, “When one tries to classify, analyse or criticize her individual poems, one comes completely to a standstill. Each one is so beautiful that vivisection seems sacrilegious, and quotation seems hopeless unless nothing is omitted. Almost every line is so full of music that it haunts our waking hours, mingles its melodies in our dreams, and at last becomes a part of our immortal selves.” p334, Acta Victoriana Vol XXXIX No. 1 (1914). Years later, Arthur MacMechan would be quoted, writing, “Her death means the silencing of the truest, sweetest singing voice ever heard in Canada”. Marjorie’s was a life of devotion to her art. Never once in her catalogue of letters was there uncodified documentation of a romantic entanglement of any kind. And while this perhaps not noteworthy today, in the early part of the 20th Century, in pre-suffrage Canada, such a condition may have aroused social suspicion. There are examples, however, where Marjorie daringly reveals a deeper yearning, as evidenced here in To Timarion. We never learn whether Timarion is an iconic substitute for a living person, or whether it is simply the poetess symbolically illuminating the forgotten woman from the shadows of a patriarchal literary past. Regardless, Timarion is beautifully enlivened here once again in Marjorie’s own immortal words.


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.





Text: Marjorie Pickthall (1883 – 1922) from The Woodcarver’s Wife


Had I the thrush’s throat, I could not sing you

Songs sweeter than his own. And I’m too poor

To lay the gifts that other lovers bring you

Low at your silver door.


Such as I have, I give. See, for your taking

Tired hands are here, and feet grown dark with dust.

Here’s a lost hope, and here a heart whose aching

Grows greater than its trust.


Sleep on, you will not hear me. But to-morrow

You will remember in your fragrant ways,

Finding the voice of twilight and my sorrow

Lovelier than all men’s praise.