The Alchemist in the City

S T E V E N  M.  C R I N O

COMPOSER   CONDUCTOR

'The Alchemist in the City' is a single movement piece written for Baritone and mixed chamber ensemble. The piece sets the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins and depicts an alchemist who has reached the end of his life, and is lamenting the fact that he has failed to accomplish the two primary goals of alchemy; to turn metals into gold, and to create an elixir of immortality. He also reflects on the modernization of the city around him, where he sees that alchemy no longer has a place. With this realization, the Alchemist cannot decide whether to blame the city and modernization for turning him into this anachronism, or the pursuit of alchemy itself for leading him down a path destined for defeat. Despite being written in 1865, the themes found in The Alchemist in the City, such as failure, relevance in society, and the surpassing of old ideas, still resonate with readers today. It was for this reason that I was attracted to the poem and feel that it should have a life in the 21st century. The piece was performed in Griswold Hall at the Peabody Conservatory.


The paintings selected for this video were created by the British artist, Alfred Goodwin, a contemporary of Hopkins.


Christopher J. Hartung, Baritone

Alan Buxbaum, Conductor

Gyuri Kim, Flute

Eric Black, Clarinet

Taylor Davis, Percussion

Erin Baker, Harp

Nicholas Bentz, Violin I

Maitreyi Muralidharan, Violin II

Jonathan Milord, Viola

Jerram John, Cello


My window shows the travelling clouds,

Leaves spent, new seasons, alter'd sky,

The making and the melting crowds:

The whole world passes; I stand by.


They do not waste their meted hours,

But men and masters plan and build:

I see the crowning of their towers,

And happy promises fulfilled.


And I - perhaps if my intent

Could count on prediluvian age,

The labours I should then have spent

Might so attain their heritage,


But now before the pot can glow

With not to be discover'd gold,

At length the bellows shall not blow,

The furnace shall at last be cold.


Yet it is now too late to heal

The incapable and cumbrous shame

Which makes me when with men I deal

More powerless than the blind or lame.


No, I should love the city less

Even than this my thankless lore;

But I desire the wilderness

Or weeded landslips of the shore.


I walk my breezy belvedere

To watch the low or levant sun,

I see the city pigeons veer,

I mark the tower swallows run


Between the tower-top and the ground

Below me in the bearing air;

Then find in the horizon-round

One spot and hunger to be there.


And then I hate the most that lore

That holds no promise of success;

Then sweetest seems the houseless shore,

Then free and kind the wilderness,


Or ancient mounds that cover bones,

Or rocks where rockdoves do repair

And trees of terebinth and stones

And silence and a gulf of air.


There on a long and squared height

After the sunset I would lie,

And pierce the yellow waxen light

With free long looking, ere I die.


Gerard Manley Hopkins - 1865