Sappho Songs

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Sappho Songs

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song cycle for two female voices and cello on words of Sappho (2005)

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  • Premiere: 23 September 2005  / Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, New York, NY  / Gilda Lyons, soprano / Elaine Valby, mezzo / Robert La Rue, cello
  • Instrumentation: S,Mez,vc 
  • Duration: 32'
  • Text: Sappho (trans. by Mary Barnard), adapted by the composer (E) 
  1. Come Now
  2. Bridesmaids' Carol
  3. Lament for a Maidenhead
  4. At Noontime
  5. I Confess / I Believe
  6. My Tongue is Broken
  7. Say What You Like / I Have No Complaints
  8. Rich As You Are / Death is An Evil
  9. Not One Word
  10. Reprise
  11. The Evening Star

Program note

The Sappho Songs were composed during the autumn of 2004 during a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbellon in Bellagio and completed in New York City in December of the same year.

First, I asked Robert La Rue to choose a handful of Sappho poems from a newly-published translation and to arrange them into an emotionally and psychologically satisying sequence. Second, I adapted the poetry (in the process superimposing six of the poems in order to form dialogues and inserting a reprise of one of them) as I would the text of a living librettist. The result was a song cycle that explores Sappho's poetry and the female condition from eleven different angles.

The cycle was composed for the ensemble Seraphim -- Elaine Valby, Robert La Rue, and Gilda Lyons. The group premiered it on 23 September 2005 in New York City at the Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, on the inaugural concert of the Phoenix Concert Series. The very specific vocal qualities of the women's voices, their extraordinary blend when combined, and the creamy intelligence of La Rue's playing were an inspiration throughout.

Elaine Valby, Gilda Lyons, and Robert La Rue

Elaine Valby, Gilda Lyons, and Robert La Rue

(Banner photo: Gilda Lyons)