Fear Not, Dear Friend


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The Story

Commissioned by the Miami-based choir Seraphic Fire, conducted by Patrick Quigley, Fear Not, Dear Friend (2013) is based on the poem “Fear Not Dear Friend, But Freely Live Your Days” by the 19th-century Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Although better known for his novels Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson published several volumes of poetry during his lifetime, and in 1901 the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams famously wrote a song cycle based on his Songs of Travel. Runestad’s choral work sets Stevenson’s words so that their bittersweet meaning is exceptionally clear. Echoing the shifting moods and thoughts of the poet, the music moves through several distinct sections divided by caesurae (pauses), and reaches a dramatic climax with the exclamation, “From all the selfish cankers of our souls,” immediately tempered by the solo soprano assurance, “And we would see you happy, dear, or die.” The work both begins and ends with the title phrase, but what starts as an admonition to “freely live your days / Though lesser lives should suffer” concludes with a lullaby-like meditation on the phrase “Fear not, dear friend.” Initially this phrase is staggered between two voices, and as the work draws to a close, it emerges one last time as a tenor murmur amid a wordless sea of sound, giving the impression of one “well anchored in some port of rest.”

Program note by Leah G. Weinberg, PhD. Please credit this author with any reproductions of this note.

SATB choir with divisi
TTBB choir with divisi




Seraphic Fire. Patrick Quigley, conductor.



Fear Not Dear Friend, But Freely Live Your Days

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Fear not, dear friend, but freely live your days
Though lesser lives should suffer. Such am I,
A lesser life, that what is mine of sky
Gladly would give for you, and what of praise.
Step, without trouble, down the sunlit ways.
We that have touched your raiment, are made whole
From all the selfish cankers of our souls,
And we would see you happy, dear, or die.
Therefore be brave, and therefore, dear, be free;
Try all things resolutely, till the best,
Out of all lesser betters, you shall find;
And we, who have learned greatness from you, we,
Your lovers, with a still, contented mind,
See you well anchored in some port of rest.


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