Ronald Corp

Conductor & Composer


The Music of Browning

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Programme Notes

1  Pippa Passes
2  Love in a Life
3  After
4  Life in a Love
5  My Star

This cycle was written for Robert Presley (baritone) and Andrew Robinson (piano) who gave the first performance at St. Mary’s, Paddington Green on Sunday 16 October, 2011, as part of the Little Venice Music Festival.

The five songs in the cycle explore various moods of Browning’s poetry, from the exuberance of ‘Pippa Passes’ to the introspection of ‘After’ to the neurosis of ‘Life in a Love’.  While no actual narrative is suggested, there is a progression from light into shadow and back into light.

Pippa Passes is a verse drama concerning a young girl ‘from the silk mills’.  Pippa wanders through the environs of Asolo, her songs influencing others to act for the better or at least to ponder a moral order.  ‘The Year’s at the Spring’ is the most famous passage of this long poem, and lends itself well to compositional treatment.  The piano sets the mood of carefree joy with trills and rushing figures as the voice ‘passes’ by.

‘Love in a Life’ and its mirrored companion ‘Life in a Love’ are from Browning’s Dramatic Lyrics, a set of poems which also contains ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’.  ‘Love in a Life’ introduces a plaintive triple-meter ‘wandering’ tune: a once-happy house is now bereft of joy.  But we’re left with the hint of reconciliation at the quiet major-chord conclusion.

That same chord leads into the despondence of ‘After’.  Circumstance has led to a duel wherein the protagonist has just killed his boyhood friend.  Meters mix  tempos alternate as the poet reflects on the present and the past.  A funeral bell tolls in the distance.

A jarring 5/8 brings us into the rather nervous ‘Life in a Love’.  The wandering poet is now actively seeking his beloved, though he seems unsure of the outcome.  A conversational vocal line weaves around angular piano music, rising to determination at the words ‘get up and begin again’.

The lyrical ‘My Star’ concludes the set.  The virtues of the beloved are on a plane higher than planets, that of the multi-hued stars themselves.  A walking figure in the piano suggests the poet in nature, perhaps staring heavenward for inspiration.  The voice rises in key when ‘my star’ is mentioned, and after a few twists into different meters and colours, the cycle ends cheerfully.

Robert Presley, 2011