Three Partsongs (2008 – 12)
- I Stood on a Tower (2008)
- Green (2012)
- How Clear, How Lovely (2010)
fp. 21 March 2013; Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, Nicholas Cleobury, St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London, UK
Sco.p. 22 November 2013; Choir of King’s College Aberdeen, David Smith, St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, UK
A recording of this work is available on Phillip Cooke, Choral Music released on Regent Records, REGCD411 and available to buy here.
Three Partsongs (2012) (pdf)
The Three Partsongs are simple settings for SATB unaccompanied choir and are part of an ongoing set, taking their influence from the Romantic idea of the partsong as a simple, homophonic, melody dominated piece often taking its inspiration from nature and other Romantic notions. The partsong reached its apogee in the early years of the twentieth century with the likes of Parry, Stanford and Elgar being principal exponents, often bringing a high-minded seriousness to their settings of great English poetry both contemporary and from earlier epochs. The vogue for partsong writing carried on into the mid-twentieth century with notable contributions from Holst, Howells, Warlock and even Benjamin Britten. Perhaps the most famous set is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Three Shakespeare Songs of 1951. The partsong fell out of favour (along with its contrapuntal cousin, the madrigal) in the 1960s and is often viewed, today, as somewhat trivial and twee.
Like much of my work, I am trying to ‘re-encounter’ previous genres and styles and make them more relevant for today – to speak the same language as previous composers but with a different accent – something that could only have been written today. ‘I Stood on a Tower’ is a setting of Tennyson and is bound together by a minor ninth harmony which colours the melancholy mood of the old year giving way to the new. ‘Green’ is a setting of DH Lawrence and is sprightly and loose-limbed before a long crescendo matches Lawrence’s passionate overtones. ‘How Clear, How Lovely’ is a setting of Alfred Housman’s XVI from More Poems (1936) and is perhaps the closest in tone to the Edwardian partsong, however the sombre finale on the line ‘falls the remorseful day’ suggests somewhere darker and more painful than previous composers may have gone.