Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Other Solo Songs with Piano

  • A Daughter of Eve: 2004: Soprano (Mezzo) and Piano: Christina Rossetti: 10 min.
  • Three Swinburne Songs: 1998: Soprano and Piano: C.A. Swinburne: 8 min.
  • Five Ceremonies for Christmas: 1995-1997: Soprano (Tenor) and Piano, Robert Herrick, 10 min. 30 sec.
  • Three Nocturnes: Soprano and Piano: 1994: Shelley, Drayton, Tennyson: 6 min.
I should say, to begin, that all of the songs in this posting were premiered by my wife and muse, Elise B├ędard, whose counsel and support in all things have been invaluable to me

A Daughter of Eve follows the Swinburne songs and is, in part a reaction to them. The Three Swinburne Songs are big, romantic and dramatic in response to Swinburne's virtuosic poetry. He was an iconoclast of the first order, shocking the Victorian world with the subject matter of some of his poems. Three Swinburne Songs require of the singer sustained dramatic singing and theatrical lyricism.  
A Daughter of Eve, on the other hand, is written on an intimate scale although it ends with the ecstatic Birthday. Christina Rossetti's poetry is heartbreaking but strangely reserved, hardly surprising when one remembers her story. She was the sister of poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She fell in love, was jilted, then lived out the rest of her as a kind of nun. The five songs of A Daughter of Eve would be perfect recital material for an accomplished young soprano or mezzo.

It is difficult to find repertoire to sing as a soloist in the Holiday Season, especially with piano. Five Ceremonies for Christmas were written to fill this need. Two of the Five Ceremonies for Christmas are religious. The other three are Herrick's remarkable poetic descriptions of ancient English Christmas traditions (the yule log, the pea and the bean, taking down decorations etc.) The songs are sometimes humorous and sometimes pious. I wrote Oh, Little Child as a stand alone song and it was so well received that I found the texts for four other songs to make a set. 

When I first resolved to begin composing "in a serious way" there was no doubt in my mind that Art Song would be my initial medium. I had numerous false starts that found their way into the trash. I finally got a handle on what I was doing and The Three Nocturnes are the result. I chose these three out of several that I was working on to make a set for Elise to sing at McMaster. She asked me to chose the best ones, and these were them. The rest I discarded.  I think, even now, that they are lovely little songs. Of Sweet and Low I am still particularly fond and it will make its way into a suite which I am arranging for orchestra.

All these songs are available, most in high and medium keys. Please contact me at at this address.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Recent Solo Songs with Piano

  • Six Zen Lyrics: 2009: Soprano (Mezzo) and Piano: texts adapted by the composer: 8 min. 30 sec.
  • Invictus:  Five Henley Songs: 2006-2008: Voice and Piano: texts by William Ernest Henley: 13 min. 30 sec.
  • Five Snow Songs: 2007: Voice and Piano: texts by Archibald Lampman: 14 min.
Six Zen Lyrics will be premiered in March by soprano Lucy Bledig (for whom they were written) with Erika Reiman, piano. I adapted the texts from translations of Chinese and Japanese Zen poets. The original form of these poems was lost in the translation, translators begin more concerned with rendering the sense of the poems. I worked with them, substituting words and turning them about, until I had words that I could set to music. They're short, the shortest about 75 secs. I have already transposed them for mezzo soprano. There's no reason a man couldn't sing them, though. 

Henley was a modern poet writing in Victorian times when most English poetry still sounded thoroughly Jacobean. Invictus is rightly famous and the other poems set here stand up to it. As always, I strove through varied musical styles to portray the moods of the poems.  Madame Life has echos of the music hall. The Wind and the Rain and Between the Dusk comment in different ways upon the human condition with very different musical means. I am the Reaper is a towering declaration of Divine power. Somebody with a dramatic bent could bring down the house with these songs. 

Five Snow Songs have been recorded by a baritone, Reid Spencer, were written for and premiered by a tenor, David Holler and have been performed by a mezzo, Petra Pacaric. Again, I have endeavored to portray the five different moods and evocations of the Canadian woodland winter that Lampman loved. They range from introspection to joyous declaration, engaging singer, pianist and public.

Al of these songs are available in high and medium keys. Please contact me at at this address.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music for Treble Voices (Children's Choir)

Keep Positive: 2006: Children's Choir, mostly unison (two parts never sing at the same time): 2 Min.
And There Were in the Same Country: 2005: Treble voices, unison, then a 3 pt. canon: 3min. 30 sec.

Keep Positive is on a text I adapted from a famous Gandhi quote. We performed it a couple of dozen times with my school choir. It's inspirational and a crowd pleaser. I conducted it at a massed choir at a Martin Luther King Day show at Hamilton Place 3 years ago.
Performing Keep Positive at Hamilton Place

And There Were in the Same Country is Luke 2, 8-14 in the Revised Standard Edition. It is introduced by a metrically ambiguous piano figuration which continues once the voices enter and, eventually, supports the melody. The vocal line is a kind of unison accompanied recitative. When you first look at it, it's hard to imagine that younger choristers (8 or 9 year olds) could possibly learn it but I've taught it to my choir 3 times and they do learn it and, once they have it, they love singing it. At "Glory to God in the Highest" it breaks up into a 3 part canon and ends with the choristers chanting the text in close harmony. This piece could be also be effectively performed by a Women's Choir.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Works for Mixed Choir

Three Marian Carols: 2010: SATB, Piano: 6 min. 30 seconds
Missa Brevis: 2008: SATB, 3 drummers: 13 min.
Magnificat: 2006: Soprano Solo, SSATB: 8  min.
For the Fallen: 2006: Solo Voice, SATB, Organ: 3 min. 30 sec.
Five Flower Songs: 2003: SSATBB: 13 min.

Three Marian Carols will be premiered by the Mohawk Community Singers in Hamilton in the weeks before Christmas 2011. They are strophic and not as challenging as some of my other choral music.

The Missa Brevis was commissioned by the McMaster Choir and they sang the premiere. It has subsequently been performed by the Scarborough College, University of Toronto Choir. It is a setting of the Prayer Book text in English. The drummers lend a rhythmic element to the piece and this appeals to younger singers. There was also an educational motive in setting these traditional words, as many university choristers are active Christians who know little of the liturgy and history of their religion. A recording of three of its movements are available (accompanied by pretty pictures) further down in this posting.

The Magnificat was also commissioned by the McMaster Choir.  This is also an English Prayer Book setting. The text is, of course, Mary's response to the angel when she learns she is to be the Mother of God. The soprano soloist represents the voice of Mary. There is also a recording of this piece later in this posting.

For the Fallen is a setting of one verse from the famous Laurence Binyon poem. It would be appropriate repertoire for most church choirs for Remembrance (Memorial) Day.

I spent a substantial portion of my performance career as a professional chorister. This didn't lead me to begin to compose in a serious way by writing choral music, however, because I had decided early on to avoid writing pieces "on spec" and I didn't have an on-going relationship with a choral conductor. Composing music is far too demanding of time and energy (especially since I have been able to devote so little time to it) to write things without a promise of performance. I did eventually write Five Flower Songs with no immediate prospect having them performed. Jon Washburn and the Vancouver Chamber Choir workshopped them and Jon thought they were too hard for all but the most expert choristers.  They were written with a really good chamber choir in mind and were inspired by music (by Hindemith, Poulenc, Britten et al) I sang as a Tudor Singer many years ago. Nobody has, yet, had the juice to program them.

Kyrie from the Missa Brevis

Sanctus from the Missa Brevis
Agnus Dei from the Missa Brevis