Six Songs Op.33

‘The Way Through’ Op.33,no1
Composed: 1999
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: February 2000, at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, performed by Susan Anne Jenkins (Soprano) and Jennifer Partridge (Piano)
Available from: Novello and Co

The song The Way Through was composed for the distinguished duo Susan Anne Jenkins and Jennifer Partridge. The poem, taken from a cycle of poems entitled, Where the Green Sunlight Beckons was written especially for the composer by the Suffolk based poet Jennifer Andrews.

The song opens with a rippling piano accompaniment with throbbing left-hand chords that evoke the timeless quality redolent in the poem. The song’s two verses, while creating a structural unity are diverse. The first is questioning, unsure and pointillistic with Venables mirroring perfectly the interrogatory nature of the first stanza.

The second is more assured and at the words ‘except in dreams’ moves into a sound world that is more affirmative and expectant. It is only on the final word of the phrase ‘but did not climb over’, that a sense of true return occurs; the mood dissolving into the uncertainty of the first stanza. Paradoxically, it is the sense of musical return that gives the song its feeling of unity. However, whereas the poem implies a journey where ultimately one reaches a destination, but ‘does not climb over’, the masterly use of the introductory material as a coda heightens rather than contradicts the poems ultimate message.

‘It Rains’ Op.33,no2
Composed: 2000
Duration: 4 minutes
First Performance: September 2000, at Dymock Parish Church, Herefordshire, performed by Jane Field (Soprano) and Graham Lloyd (Piano)
Available from: Novello and Co

‘It Rains’ is a setting of an Edward Thomas poem and was composed as a memorial tribute to Joan Kilbey. The songs rich harmonies and warm vocal lines draw out the ambivalent mix of melancholy and passion in Thomas’ poem. It is based upon two distinct musical ideas: one that is sensual and lugubrious, the other uplifting and joyous.

A backdrop of soft summer rain is evoked through the use of a rich, harmonic sound world that sustains a heady mood in which the vocal narrative recalls a past moment of intense passion. A contrasting idea is introduced that is both harmonically and melodically affirmative in character. The unfolding vocal narrative seeks to find a synthesis between these two worlds. This musical resolution is finally achieved in the song’s concluding vocal climax on the words, ‘The past hovering as it revisits the light’. Here, a brief echo of the song’s opening mood is replaced by a triumphant restatement of the second, life-affirming idea.

‘Vitae Summa Brevis’ Op.33,no3
Composed: 2002
Duration: 3 minutes 30 seconds
First performance: January 2003 at The Royal Grammar School Worcester, Der-Shin Hwang (soprano) and Graham J Lloyd (piano).
Available from: Novello and Co

The 19th century fin de siecle poet Ernest Dowson has a secure place in the pantheon of poets on the basis of two memorable poems, Cynara and Vitae Summa Brevis. The latter poem contains the now famous line, ‘They are not long the days of wine and roses’. Venables takes this two-stanza poem and treats it in a strophic manner, adding only occasional variation to the vocal line. Its musical language is suggestive of the sound world found in his earliest song. 2003

‘The November Piano’ Op.33,no4
Composed: 2002
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: 3rd May 2008 at the Malvern Songfest by Helen Massey (soprano) and Philip Collin (piano)
Available from: Novello and Co

The November Piano is a setting of a poem by the contemporary poet Charles Bennett. It is taken from his first volume of poetry entitled ‘Wintergreen’,published in 2002. The song contains all the hallmarks of the composer’s mature style: the use of long breathed vocal lines and melismas, which are underpinned by a rich and complex harmonic language.

‘Break,break,break’ Op.33,no5
Composed: 2003
Duration: 2 min 30 seconds
First Performance: 2003 in London given by Howard Wong.
Available from: Novello and Co

Break, break, break is a setting of the poem by the great Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson. The poem’s gothic austerity is matched equally by the power of the music. This marvellous evocation of the restlessness of the sea provides a backdrop for the song’s declamatory vocal entrance on the words, Break, break, break, on thy cold gray stones. In the song’s central section, a new musical idea transforms its overall mood in readiness for the most important line in the poem, Oh for the touch of a vanished hand. A ravishingly beautiful vocal line with a sparse chordal accompaniment re-creates this moment of sublime tenderness. However, this is only fleeting, as the song’s dramatic opening material returns to herald in the last verse.

‘The Hippo’ Op.33,no6
Composed: 2003
Duration: 1 minute
First Performance: 2003, The Royal Grammar School, Worcester, Nathan Vale (tenor) and Paul Plummer (piano)
Available from: Novello and Co

The final song in this set is a setting of a poem entitled The Hippo, by the American poet Theodore Roethke. This is one of the composer’s shortest and most delightful songs. This whimsical poem is perfectly matched by the subtlety of the music and by a vocal line that is flexible enough to bring out the poem’s humour. However, the humour is understated, and the song’s overall mood is reflective, rather than mere parody.