‘The Letter’

House Music at Your House

Originally written for voice and piano, ‘The Letter’ is one of a dozen tunes from a series called the ‘Superstitions of Ireland’ originally published in London in the late 1830s.

Raised on Irish folk songs sung to him by his mother, Samuel Lover (1797-1868) had been a precocious child and his talents in music, literature, and drawing led to a long and rich professional life both on and off the stage. Each of these songs opens with a short paragraph describing an Irish superstition that sets the scene. ‘The Letter’ begins:

A small spark, attached to the wick of a candle is considered to indicate the arrival of a letter to the one before whom it burns.

This song was discovered in the Rouse Hill House collection by the Sydney Children’s Choir and has been transformed into a new work for 22 voice choir, violin and piano. The choir was filmed performing the piece at Rouse Hill Estate.

Watch the performance

Listen to the Sydney Children’s Choir perform ‘The Letter’ and then have a go yourself! This is the only known recording of this song so you can help us share more versions with the world.

You can find links to the music and lyrics below and perform and share your own interpretation.

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Meet the performers

Sydney Children’s Choir

In 2019, the Sydney Children’s Choir celebrated its 30th anniversary with the spectacular Gondwana World Choral Festival, which brought the world’s finest children’s choirs to Sydney for a week of 21 performances.

Learn more about the Choir

Still taken from video by James Murray © Sydney Living Museums.

The Letter

A small spark, attached to the wick of a candle is considered to indicate the arrival of a letter to the one before whom it burns.

FARE-THEE-WELL, love, now thou art going
   Over the wild and trackless sea; 
Smooth be its waves, and fair the wind blowing–
   Tho 'tis to bear thee far from me. 
But when on the waste of Ocean, 
   Some happy home-bound bark you see, 
Swear by the truth of thy heart's devotion, 
   To send a letter back to me.

Think of the shore thou'st left behind thee,
   Even when reaching a brighter strand; 
Let not the golden glories blind thee 
   Of that gorgeous Indian land; 
Send me not its diamond treasures, 
   Nor pearls from the depth of its sunny sea, 
But tell me of all thy woes and pleasures, 
   In a long letter back to me.

And while dwelling in lands of pleasure,
   Think, as you bask in their bright sunshine, 
That while the ling’ring time I measure,
   Sad and wintry hours are mine; 
Lonely by my taper weeping
   And watching, the spark of promise to see–
All for that bright spark, my night-watch keeping,
   For oh! 'tis a letter, love, from thee! 
To say that soon thy sail will be flowing 
   Homeward to bear thee over the sea: 
Calm be the waves and swift the wind blowing, 
   For oh! thou art coming back to me!

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