9 April 2013


'Which are the twenty loveliest songs that have ever been written?' That's the kind of question sometimes asked in magazines.

One song that would be a serious contender for inclusion is We'll Gather Lilacs In The Spring Again. Its words and music both came from the pen of Ivor Novello, who wrote it for his 1945 stage musical Perchance to Dream. Like so many popular songs from musicals, it soon acquired a life of its own.
Ivor Novello
One reason why it caught on is that it has a simple but lovely 4-bar phrase whose rhythm and shape is constantly repeated, though at various pitches. There is not even a middle eight to divert our attention from it. Here it is at the opening of the chorus.
The song also has words that suggest the simple joys of a loving couple coming together again at the end of a long parting - such as was happening in 1945, when the Second World War ended. How wonderful it will be once again to gather lilacs and to walk hand-in-hand down a country lane. The very thought of such pleasures evokes tears of joy.

But the greatest secret of this beautiful song is its harmony.

CLICK HERE for a delightful performance (that includes the Verse as well as the more famous Chorus).

In particular, it uses so many minor chords to suggest the feeling of nostalgia and the pain of separation, while the major chords suggest the joy of coming together again.

Here are the words of the chorus. I have underlined every word during which a minor chord is played.

We'll gather lilacs in the Spring again

And walk together down an English lane

Until our hearts have learned to sing again

When you come home once more.

And in the evening by the firelight's glow

You'll hold me close and never let me go.

Your eyes will tell me all I need to know

When you come home once more.

What a large proportion of the song has minor harmonies! In the Key of F, they happen to be D minor, Bb minor, C minor (this one specially effective against lane and me go), G minor 7th and A minor.