Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano
This song-cycle was a private commission, and a birthday present. Gerard Hastings asked me to set some of Ursula Vaughan Williams’ poems to celebrate David Evans’ 40th birthday. Gerard and David have been friends of Ursula for many years, and they are also great admirers of Anne Mason, one of my very favourite singers. (Anne created the roles of Minskwoman in Flight, and Jane in When She Died…) So I wrote the cycle for Anne to sing at a private concert in Hoxton Hall, in June 2004.
Gerard made this selection from Ursula Vaughan Williams’ poems. In a sense, they are all portraits and self-portraits of women: women waiting, women remembering. Time Being is a prelude, its “short lifetime” leading to a lifetime recollected in Autobiography. Penelope describes the origin of painting: before he leaves, Penelope draws the outline of her husband on the wall, anticipating a long wait for his return. Spider is an admiring and intimate portrait of the female of the species. Martha is the longest song in the cycle: she is only briefly mentioned in the gospels, but the poem lovingly fleshes out her strong character. Finally, The Siren is prefaced by a quotation from the Book of Enoch: “And Uriel said to me: ‘Here shall stand the angels that have lain with women…and the women they seduced shall become Sirens’.” The siren remembers the fallen angel whose love made her what she is, and whose death she will sing and mourn forever.
Text: Poems by Ursula Vaughan Williams
Commissioned by Gerard Hastings for Anne Mason to sing in celebration of David Evans's fortieth birthday
First performance: 6th June 2004, Anne Mason and Jonathan Dove, Hoxton Hall, London.