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The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child was a joint commission by the National Youth Chorus of Great Britain and The King’s Singers to celebrate their 25th and 40th anniversaries, respectively. They asked me to write a piece that they could perform together, and I thought Yeats’ exquisite poem (written when he was only twenty) would create a perfect dramatic counterpoint between the two groups. The National Youth Choir would represent the voice of the ‘human child’, innocent and naive;  and The King’s Singers would represent the highland faeries of the ‘water and the wild’, seducing the children away from a world full of troubles with the promise of endless revelry and eternal youth.

There are two ways to perform The Stolen Child. The first way, exactly as written, with a male sextet: two counter-tenors, one tenor, two baritones, and one bass. The second is to use a small chamber choir in place of the sextet, and have soloists from this small group perform solo only as indicated in the score; all other lines should be tutti within the chamber choir.

The Stolen Child is lovingly dedicated to my teacher and mentor John Corigliano, on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

The Stolen Child

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scare could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939

Available from all good retailers including Musicroom and Hal Leonard.

  • Brad Sampson

    I got to see The King's SIngers and BYU SIngers perform this together. What a captivating piece of music!

  • Dalan Guthrie

    @brad sampson I was at that concert as well! such an amazing performance!

  • http://www.youtube.com/xoclkox Courtney Lea K

    Those chords at 8:02 and 8:12 are just PERFECT! Send shivers down my spine EVERYTIME I hear them!

  • Elena Accinelli

    Hi, i've bought your L&G CD and would like to know if in this piece (i.e. Stolen Child) you use a counter-tenor or an alto for some of the solos.

    In fact, i'd be grateful if you'd tell me where to get the credits for the whole CD! (somewhere in this web perhaps?).

    Many thanks

    Elena (one of your virtual altos for Sleep-2011!, from Spain)

  • Courtney Anderson

    This song is yet another of the devastingly gorgeous and captivating pieces of your composition I've heard since I became involved with your music in 9th grade (I'm in 11th grade now, but my conductor LOVES your music!) Stunning!

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      THANK YOU, Courtney!

  • Donald Hale

    Of all your lovely works, Mr. Whitacre, I believe this is the most hauntingly beautiful of all. The music flows with the words to the point where the music BECOMES the words, and this is just amazingly brilliant. Even though I'm only a freshman in high school, I love to enjoy marvelous works from talented composers. Thank you for making my day, Mr. Whitacre.

  • Sarah

    I was swept away with this from the moment I first heard the haunting “ahs” that start the piece. I have always loved this poem, and you fit it to music flawlessly. :)

  • Austin John Muusse

    Hauntingly beautiful and a perfect depiction of the poem. I am so inspired by this music. I Love the crunches in the sextet coaxing the child “to the waters and the wild”.

    The counter tenor and the bass octave is PERFECT. *Insert bad music Pun*
    I love the motion of the men singing mingling hands and mingling glances underneath the sextet.

    I am done, I promise. There are so many things that are so intricate and perfect about this piece.

    Thank you.

  • Pingback: Concert with the BBC Singers and The King’s Singers broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 – Blog – Eric Whitacre

About Eric

Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time, a distinguished conductor, broadcaster and public speaker. His first album as both composer and conductor on Decca/Universal, Light & Gold, won a Grammy® in 2012, reaped unanimous five star reviews and became the no. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release... view full bio