Songs Op.41

1. Cut Grass Op.41, no 1
Composed: 2012
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: None to date.
Available from: Novello and Co

This song was composed during the summer of 2012 when the composer was on holiday in Half Moon Bay – a small coastal town outside San Francisco. The short lyric poem by Philip Larkin, Cut Grass, uses onomatopoeia, colour and flower symbolism to show that death is both natural and inevitable. By contrasting the newly cut grass with the burgeoning month of June, Larkin juxtaposes the harshness of death, and its indifference to its surroundings, while providing a sense of hope once death does arrive. The song begins quietly, eliciting a mood of fragile tranquillity. The vocal line echoes the piano’s opening statement on the words, ‘Cut grass lies frail: brief is the breath mown stalks exhale’. This is followed by an extended melisma that underpins the phrase, ‘Long, long the death’. The song’s brief middle section becomes more animated and pastoral in nature leading to a return of the melisma heard at the song’s outset, but now presented in an augmented form on the words, ‘moving at summer’s pace’.

2. Frutta di Mare Op.41, no 2
Composed: 2011
Duration: 4 minutes
First Performance: None to date.
Available from: Novello and Co

Frutti di Mare was written during the summer of 2011. Geoffrey Scott (1884-1929) was an English scholar and poet, known principally as a historian of architecture. His relationship with Vita Sackville-West prompted a literary career that ultimately led to a volume of his poetry being published posthumously in 1931. Scott’s poem, Frutti di Mare, is one of the earliest 20th century poems that deals with the subject of Environmental Ecology. The central message of the poem is that modern man has become too self-absorbed to hear Nature’s call. The song mirrors closely the poem’s wistful narrative opening with a piano accompaniment that evokes the gentle lapping of waves on a distant seashore. The voice enters on the words ‘I am a sea shell, flung up from an ancient sea/ Now I lie here among roots of a tamarisk tree /no one listens to me’. This serenely tranquil music gives way to a central section that becomes highly chromatic as it reaches a climax on the words ‘only your sorrows sound comes coiling to the brim’. In the final pages of the song a new melodic idea is presented supported by slow and rhythmically undulating chords in the piano. Here, the poem’s narrative reveals that ‘Nature’ does indeed have the answers to all our questions but because of mankind’s hubris, denies to answer them.        

3. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes Op.41, no 3

Composed: 2011
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: 12th August 2012, at San Francisco Presbyterian Church, California, Sally Porter Monro (mezzo-soprano) and Graham.J Lloyd (piano)
Commissioned: By Kenneth R. Prendergast.

Available from: Novello and Co

Ian Venables met the distinguished Californian pianist and teacher Kenneth R. Prendergast in 1992. Their great friendship has resulted in the composer’s biennial trips to the San Francisco Bay area. In recent years these visits have culminated in a special concert that has featured his music. In 2011, Kenneth Prendergast commissioned a song to celebrate his 50th birthday the following summer. The composer set the short poem, ‘The Night has a Thousand Eyes’ by Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921). The poem presents a series of opposing images; night and day, the thousand and the one, life and death, but his overriding opposite is the heart versus the mind. In Bourdillon’s opinion, the heart is much more important to life and in the final two lines of the poem he states that the essence of life is lost once love is lost. The song attempts to evoke an otherworldly and transcendental mood. This is achieved by an insistent oscillation of major and minor triads in the piano accompaniment above which the voice intones its plangent melody. The melismatic rising of the melodic line towards the end of the song captures the intensity of the final words, ‘when love is gone’.

 4. In a Parlor Containing a Table Op.41, no 4

Composed: 2013
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: None to date
Available from: Novello and Co

The American poet Galway Kinnell was born in 1929. His poem In a Parlor Containing a Table first appeared in a collection entitled, ‘What a Kingdom it was’ published in 1960. The poet’s bleak commentary on the human condition gives rise to an existential poem whose realism can only be relieved by its dry sense of humour. Kinnell describes three men meeting in a parlor. At the poem’s climax all three men reveal that they are sharing the same secret and with a sudden collective revelation comes the realisation that each man is “miserable”. Following a short piano introduction the voice enters with a quasi recitative passage underpinned by long sustained chords – ‘In a parlor containing a table and three chairs/ three men confided their inmost thoughts to one another’. This leads to a middle section introduced by the piano accompaniment beating out a monotonous and phlegmatic rhythm in 4/4 time. The piano’s implacable mood sustains the vocal line as they move inexorably towards the revelatory climax on the line, ‘I think that the correct word Is miserable, asserted the third’  This stark atmosphere is broken by a sudden and surprising modulation to B flat minor. The song’s opening quasi vocal recitative returns on the words, ‘well at last they said, it’s a quarter to two’  Finally, all ‘three’ voices are heard in turn, each one echoing the others sentiments, ‘You too, ‘You too, ‘You too’.  As they leave the table the music dies away into silence. The song is dedicated to Michael Lamapard.

5. The Little Old Cupid Op.41, no 5

Composed: 2013
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: None to date
Available from: Novello and Co

6. Chamber Music No 3 Op.41, no 6

Composed: 2014
Duration: 4 minutes
First Performance: A private performance held at Margaret Atkinson’s home in Half Moon Bay, 19th August, 2014.
Commissioned: By Margaret Atkinson
Available from: Novello and Co

7. On Eastnor Knoll Op.41, no 7
Composed: 2016
Duration: 4 minutes
First Performance: A private performance held at the home of Nina, Princess Odescalci.
Commissioned: By Gina Wilson
Available from: Novello and Co

8. What Then? Op.41, no 8
Composed: 2017
Duration: 3 minutes
First Performance: None to date
Commissioned: By Gina Wilson
Available from: Novello and Co