Saturday, July 25, 2020

Saturday, July 25, 2020 1:38 am by M. in , ,    No comments
Kevin Scott's Five Songs on Poems of Anne Brontë has been fully orchestrated and is available at the UCLA Contemporary Music Collection:
Five Songs on Poems of Anne Brontë for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra (1988/2018-20)
by Kevin Scott

For many years I sought to compose a large-scale song cycle for voice and orchestra in the same vein as Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder, Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, Elgar's Sea Pictures and Strauss' Four Last Songs. Little did I realize that fate would play a major role in producing such a composition.
It was in the fall of 1988 that I entered a brief relationship with a young New York-based actress named Helen Damien Clift, whose free-spirited individuality captivated my mind and soul.
During this time I also wandered around many bookstores in Manhattan, and while visiting the now-defunct Colosseum Book Store on 57th Street and Broadway, I happened to come across a volume of poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. While perusing through it, it was Anne's poems that fired my imagination. It was as if the texts leaped off the page while verbally saying in my mind “Set me! Set me!” I said I would, but...when? In many ways, Anne was, and for the most part continues to be, not only the least known of the three sisters, but also the most forward-looking of writers that emerged from the 19th century. As an author, her novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall brought forth a dark, Gothic power that for some surpasses those penned by her sisters.
Unfortunately, my union with Damien (as she preferred to be addressed) was very brief, resulting in a series of painful events that sapped my will in many ways. When a dinner meeting failed to transpire, I went home and left a message on her answering machine. The next morning I received a message from her stating her disappointment in me, and that she wished to discontinue our association. Suffice it to say, I was demoralized. It was then on a Sunday morning in late October of 1988 that I went to the volume of Brontë poems, read through them again and, for the next ten hours, set Anne's poem “Night”.
Immediately following that setting, I then composed “A Prayer” (also known as “My God! O, let me call Thee mine!”), and other poems followed soon after. Was this the cycle I sought to compose after all? When the dust from the fallout of my brief liaison with Damien cleared, I had set seven poems to music. At first I wanted to orchestrate all seven, but two of them did not seem to lend themselves to a large-scale format, but the other five did. I also decided to dedicate these songs to her.
In many ways, the musical inspiration for these songs came from one composer very close to my heart, namely Bernard Herrmann. It was Herrmann's score for the 1944 film adaptation of Charlotte's Jane Eyre, as well as his epic operatic setting of Emily's Wuthering Heights. Herrmann's dark and brooding music served as the wellspring for these songs. In a similar vein, so did two of Robert Schumann's major cycles, namely Dichterliebe and Frauenlieben und Leben, more in terms of word-painting and his evocative use of sonorities that he drew from the piano.
Once finished, I didn't waste time in showing these songs to several friends of mine, photocopying the rough manuscripts and not producing a neat, final copy. The results? Silence, save for one singer who felt that the voice was not used enough, and that its range was ill-suited for any mezzo to sing. Realizing that this cycle would never receive a performance, I soon moved on to other projects.
In 2012, I heard a new group of mezzos, hoping to interest them in this cycle once again. Reviewing the first version, I decided that it needed a complete overhaul, not to mention finally orchestrating them. Three of the songs were not only orchestrated, but I expanded them in many ways as well. Pleased at what I heard, I waited until someone said yes to these songs. The affirmative was there, but not the potential to have them performed. And it was in 2018 when my friend Janet Hopkins asked me if I knew any cycles by women composers, or songs where the texts were by female poets. At first I sent her another cycle, but when my inquiries about obtaining the rights to several of the texts went silent, I mentioned the Anne Bronte cycle again. Janet asked me to send them, and I did. Much to my chagrin, Janet liked what she saw, and I then said let me proof and finalize the set. Once I reviewed the two versions for voice and piano, not to mention the orchestral versions of three of the songs, did I realize that there were numerous differences on all levels. It was then that I decided to produce a third, and final, version, combining parts of the two versions while, in the case of the final poem “Retirement”, deconstruct and discard some parts and compose new sections in their place.
Finally, from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020, I finally decided to produce a final version for full orchestra based on the final revisions that are incorporated in the vocal score and the chamber ensemble version.
To analyze these songs would take some time to elucidate, but I leave it up to the listener and performer to decide if my settings of these five poems truly represent the personal pain she endured throughout her brief adult life, as well as her unshakable faith in God.
The pieces can listen here in a version for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble. Please, ignore the picture.


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