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Programme Notes

Three Housman Songs, op.69a

1. Loveliest of trees

2. Far in a western brookland

3. In valleys green and still

This short song cycle began in 1996 when the Housman Society asked a number of composers to set poems from A Shropshire Lad for voice and string quartet to celebrate the centenary of its publication. I chose what is probably the best known of all Housman’s poems, ‘Loveliest of trees’: I wanted to give myself the challenge of coming up with something quite different from the several other settings of this poem. Because it talks of cherry blossom, I thought of the Japanese obsession with the cherry, and so tried to create a Japanese atmosphere, particularly in the string parts. After the song’s performance in Ludlow, by Mary Wiegold with the Composers Ensemble, I decided it needed a companion, and so set another poem from A Shropshire Lad, ‘Far in a western brookland’, which like ‘Loveliest of trees’ is full of intense feelings of loss amidst the beauty of nature. This second song has yet to be performed in its original version. In 2010 I added a third song as a present for Amelia Freedman’s 70th birthday, which was sung at the Wigmore Hall by Felicity Lott with the Nash Ensemble. I chose ‘In valleys green and still’, from Last Poems, in which a pair of lovers hear a distant patrol of soldiers marching to the music of fife and drum. I imitated these sounds with a solo viola playing on harmonics to a col legno (tapping with the wood of the bow) accompaniment. In 2014 George Vass asked me if I could arrange the songs for string orchestra, to be performed at the 2015 Presteigne Festival by Gillian Keith– the first complete performance of the cycle.

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Three Housman Songs

St Andrew's Church (Presteigne, Wales, United Kingdom)

Ruby Hughes/Presteigne Festival Orchestra/George Vass

Three Housman Songs

Capital premiere of Three Housman Songs

St John's Smith Square (London, United Kingdom)

Orchestra Nova/George Vass/Gillian Keith

Three Housman Songs

St Andrew's Church (Presteigne, Wales, United Kingdom)

Gillian Keith/Presteigne Festival Orchestra/George Vass