100 Second Songs at York Late Music

March 2022: after being postponed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, York Late Music finally presented the complete 100 Second Songs project performed by Anna Snow (soprano) and Kate Ledger (piano).

March 2022: after being postponed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, York Late Music finally presented the complete 100 Second Songs project performed by Anna Snow (soprano) and Kate Ledger (piano). Developed by Dot Dash Music (Hayley Jenkins, David Lancaster and David Power) 100 Second Songs commissioned composers from around the world resulting in 35 miniature songs. The kaleidoscopic programme is designed to provide a resource for other performers to draw on and it comprises a fascinating set of responses to a wide range of texts from self-penned or self-compiled, to specially commissioned, to poetic classics. My own contribution, Berceuse 1917, sets words by Robert Macfarlane writing about the First World War poet, Edward Thomas. 100 seconds is only one possible length for my own piece and I have also heard it in a version lasting six times that, i.e. ten minutes.

The full list of composers and their songs (as programmed by Anna and Kate on 5th March 2022) is:

Emily Doolittle Nicely (Erik Satie); Roger Marsh Non So (Gaia Blandina); David Lancaster Court (John Goodby); Nick Williams BFILLSU EIMST (Sandra Alland); David Power Song for Louis Wain (Stephen Meek); Peter Moran Busted (Christian Bök); Anthony Adams The Grasses of the Garden; Lara Poe Winter Seclusion (Kobayashi Issa); Steve Crowther Die Maske des Bösen (Brecht); Rob Fokkens Numbers; Piers Hellawell Wind Bag; Morag Galloway Manifold; William Rhys Meek The Kingfisher (Stephen Meek); Chris Warner Closer then Ever; Sadie Harrison I am in love with every star in all the galaxies (Shaykh Muslih Al-din Sa’di); Alison Williams I Shall Go Back Again (Edna St. Vincent Millay); Judith Hayes Buried Love (Sara Teasdale); James Else My River (Emily Dickinson); Mark Slater Against the Land (Iris Murdoch); James Cave Downgrade from Triple-A/Hopeful (Caleb Klaces); Tom Armstrong Berceuse 1917 (Robert Macfarlane); Angela Elizabeth Slater Space Between; Heyley Jenkins To My Cyst (Carole Bromley); René Mayoral To clean your head; Flora Geißelbrecht Karotten (Mascha Kaléko); Kerry Andrew Blackberry (George Bowering); Emily Levy born hyphen deceased (Rose Drew); Erik Branch The Bleeding Hand (Robert Herrick); Martín Loyato Bugia Più Efficiente; Thomas Crawley The Poppy (Jane Taylor); James Williamson Cradle Song; Anna Disley-Simpson Mother Moon; Benjamin Tassie Salvage (Jacqueline Saphra); Tarik O’Regan When I Go Away from You (Amy Lowell).

Here is the 100 second talk (!) I gave at the concert: Berceuse 1917 is based on the work of Edward Thomas (1878-1917), a British rambler, writer, poet and soldier. I don’t set any of Thomas’ words, instead I use text from Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways which includes a fictionalised account of the last months of Thomas’ life on the Western front. Both piano and voice are derived from Chopin’s Berceuse, the former taking slices from each bar and the latter using the opening few notes of the tune. To give you a flavour of Thomas’ work, here are two miniature poems that seem sadly appropriate to the moment [the Russian invasion of Ukraine began just over a week prior to the concert].

The Cherry Trees

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.

In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.

York Minster rose window by ©lablaika/123RF.COM

Author: Tom Armstrong

Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Surrey, Guildford UK. Freelance composer.

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