Five new songs by Suckling, entitled The Tuning will be premiered by Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Christopher Glynn at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 19 October 2019. Commissioned by the Oxford Lieder Festival, they all set poems by Michael Donaghy.
‘The musicality of Donaghy’s poetry is often remarked upon, and perhaps this is what drew me to his texts’ writes Suckling. ‘It’s a musicality that is more than just pervasive lyricism, one that extends to his precision of gesture and cadence and a delight in the union of formal elegance with expressive heft. But I think what I love is the magic, and with it the making-strange, whether of poem-as-spell or of a seemingly quotidian observation. The magic holds me.’
The five poems in the set are selected from across Donaghy’s output and are unrelated. They are not intended to present a coherent narrative, nor are they a cycle – though the music offers cyclic elements, and a narrative could be constructed if desired. ‘I chose them because I could hear them sung as I read them’ explains Suckling. ‘With the exception of ‘The Tuning’, whose exposition-heavy text required a different approach – I set them as songs: simple, often strophic vocal lines and a piano part focusing on a single figuration, as in classic Lieder.’
After an extended introduction, ‘The Present’ places cycling pairs of vocal phrases against ever-expanding piano descents. ‘The River in Spate’ and ‘Tears’ both offer types of musical near-suspended animation. In ‘The Tuning’ the piano takes the melodic lead, sinuous counterpoint enveloping the narrator’s arioso. ‘Two Spells for Sleeping’ practices a hypnotism of unceasing pulsation and not-quite-repeating loops.