Ring out, wild bells

Ring out

8th February 2015 | For Chen Wang
Photograph by Caroline Allard

What is it?

Ring out, wild bells is a setting of selected verses from the poem by the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is the first of the five songs that comprise Idylls, scored for solo soprano and piano. Although relatively straightforward to sing, the soprano part does contain a couple of perfect fourth leaps up to a top B-natural, requiring a vocal range overall of a semitone short of two octaves. The piano part, though requiring accurate hand placement, is moderately easy to play.

Unlike three of the other songs from 'Idylls', I decided not to make a choral arrangement of 'Ring out'. The solo voice and piano create between them an atmosphere of cold moodiness that would be difficult to emulate with a choir.


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.


Official release (January 2024)

soprano solo plus piano



A typical late autumn sky in Tennyson's part of England

Tennyson's poem 'Ring out, wild bells' (from 'In Memoriam') sounds somewhat dated today because of not only the language used in certain of the verses (of which the poem has eight) but also the A-B-B-A rhyming structure of each verse. I selected four verses that in effect summarise the message of the poem. In setting them I doubled up on the timing of the first line of each verse, which somehow makes the rhyming structure more effective.

This was the last of the 'Idylls' songs that I composed. The piano opens with a series of thunderous, bell-like chords, proceeding through passages that give the impression of the sands of time moving ever forward. It is an intense, brooding song, which at times has an air of remote coldness; and yet the last verse transforms that into an feel of quiet hope and expectation.

The music of the third verse has a particularly chilling feel to it, echoing 'the faithless coldness of the times' of which the poem speaks, culminating in the two perfect fourth leaps up to the top B-naturals on which the soprano sings, 'Ring out! Ring out!'.

The song was first performed in public by the London-based Chinese soprano Chen Wang.

Chen Wang

Chen Wang

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