Flying Crooked Op.28 no.1 and At Midnight Op. 28 no.2

‘Flying Crooked’
Composed: 1998
Duration: 1 minute
First Performance: February 1999 at the Wigmore Hall, London, given by the tenor Daniel Norman and pianist and composer Richard Sisson
Available from: Novello and Co

‘At Midnight’
Composed: 1997
Duration: 4 minutes
First Performance: April 1998 at a concert of the composers’ music in San Francisco, USA, performed by Sally Munro (mezzo-soprano) and Graham Lloyd (piano)
First UK Performance : February 1999 at the Wigmore Hall, London, given by the tenor Daniel Norman and pianist and composer Richard Sisson
Available from: Novello and Co

The two songs opus 28 are examples of Ian Venables’ ultra-refined sensibility, contrasting the harmonic subtleties and ambiguities of his setting of Robert Graves’ poem ‘Flying Crooked’ with the dream-like atmosphere of one of Edna St.Vincent Millay’s many sonnets.

Flying Crooked is a witty interpretation of a poem that describes the haphazard flight patterns of the most ubiquitous of butterflies, the cabbage-white. Lasting just over a minute, its pointillistic and harmonically ambiguous piano writing contrasts the effortless diatonicism of the vocal line, creating a whimsical, if not irreverent setting. The poem was sent to the composer by Lady Bliss, to whom the song is dedicated and at whose home it received its first private performance.

The American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay won the Pultizer Prize in 1923 for her third volume of poety, ‘The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems’. This collection exhibits her mature style, and shows a mastery of her use of traditional verse form; in particular the sonnet.

Although her untitled poem from this volume, given the title ‘At Midnight’ by the composer, is an early work, it is a poignant description of one woman’s reminiscences on past loves. Its timeless, dream-like quality is created by an insistent rocking figure and a rich and sensuous harmonic language which heighten Millay’s emotionally charged writing. ‘At Midnight’ was written in America after Venables was given the poem by Joanne Azarnoff at the end of a concert of his music in San Francisco.

Music Sample: At Midnight Op. 28, no.2
 

Music Sample: Flying Crooked Op. 28, no.1