Duration: 23 minutes
First Performance: Studley Priory, 29th April given performed by Gareth Brymnor John (baritone), the Pheonix Piano Trio and pianist Sholto Kynoch.
Commissioned by Robert Venables KC to celebrate his 30th Anniversary with his partner Gary Morris.
The commissioner kindly gave me the creative freedom to compose a cycle of songs that would focus upon various aspects of male love. As always, the starting point for the work is to find the right poems to set. This took several weeks of extensive reading, but Robert and Gary’s suggestion of looking at the poetry of Constantine Cavafy and Lord Tennyson helped to pare down my choices. I had set both poets before, but the thematic subject of the cycle provided me with an opportunity to explore some of their other poems. Indeed, Out of the Shadows opens with a setting of Cavafy’s sensuous poem, At the café door. By contrast, the second song is a lively and energetic setting of by a poem by the late 19th century Venetian historian, Horatio Brown, entitled, Bored. To contemporary ears this poem is a light-hearted lyric, but given the anti-homosexual climate of Victorian society, the poem also echoes a note of sadness. Nevertheless, I have tried to capture its covert sense of humour, ‘Two rows of foolish faces blent / In two blurred lines; the compliment / The formal smile, the cultured air / The sense of falseness everywhere / Her ladyship superbly dressed / I liked their footman, John, the best.’ In the third song, I returned to Cavafy for a setting of his poem, The mirror in the hall. The fourth song acts as the cycle’s slow movement and is a setting of the seventh section of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam. This is followed by short scherzo movement; a setting of John Addington Symonds’ poem, Love’s Olympian Laughter. The cycle culminates in a song with words by the American poet, Edward Perry Warren. Although the cycle’s underlying narrative portrays the love of man for man, I wanted to end the work with a celebration of the universality of love and especially the deep love that is found in a long-lasting relationship. This is a love that transcends sexual categories and is at the heart of a humane world where gay people no longer need to hide in ‘the shadows.’
Body and Soul
The calm of heaven is mine; and now I know
that what I dreamed is so:
that love can melt the body and soul in one;
but warmer yet and softer
than any dream, more still than heavenly calms
the cloudland of thine arms
wherein I love thee more daily and after.