Hardy’s poems are nostalgic expositions upon the past and its relation to the future. In ‘Before Life and After’ Hardy yearns for a time before ‘before the birth of consciousness,’ when the bliss of nescience had not been lost. ‘The Little Old Table’ relates to a table and its history in the hands of Hardy himself: a product of his relationships that shall outlast him; its physicality remaining, whilst he is forgotten.
Benjamin Britten interprets the poem, ‘Before Life and After’ with great imagination. At the beginning of the song, we see an ascending scalic sequence of chords beginning from D major. However, we see the piano melody in octaves from bars 1 to 3, beat 3, is based on A and B, which is replicated in the underlying chords from bar 1 to bar 7 beat 3. The emphasis on these two notes suggests a simple, pendulous movement, representing the eternal cycle of birth and death.
We see here, when discussing this natural occurrence, that the music is tonal and triadic, sounding firmly in D major, suggesting the simplicity of a time ‘before the birth of consciousness’, with the music modulating to the subdominant of G major, the people’s key, along with the use of rhythmic diminution to minims from the previous quaver piano rhythm, to suggest a time of simplicity, ‘when all went well,’ in the soft darkness of nescience.
The keys of G major and A major are then used in bars 11 and 12 respectively. These keys are unrelated and dissonant, serving to show the pain and awkwardness of ‘loss,’ ‘regret’ and ‘starved hope.’ This is accented as the vocal motif from bar 6 (c,d,e,d) is inverted in bar 12 (d,c,b,c), with the b flat forming a discord under the A major triad, a piece of word painting suggesting the pain of ‘starved hope.’ Hardy also uses word painting in bar 22 to develop this point further, as we have the phrase ‘[if] brightness dimmed’, set over an F major 7 chord. The brightness of this added chord represents the brightness of nescience, but the...