Tuesday 4 December 2007

There are all sorts of things I ought to be doing - sorting out the music for next year's concerts, finishing the current scene of my new opera, adding to the motets in my sequence Tempus per Annum. I do have excuses, my toner is running low and so printing music will have to wait until I've ordered a new one. The new opera requires me to sit at the piano and bash away at it, digging into the accompaniment of the scene, which currently exists in skeleton form. This is something I tend to put off then do in a rush, usually making me late for work or whatever engagement I have.

But I am not doing any of the things I ought to be, instead I am writing songs. Now it could be argued that this is a GOOD THING as 1) I don't write songs very often, always meaning to do more and 2) my recent settings of Ivor Gurney came 2nd and 4th in the English Poetry and Song Society's Ivor Gurney competition.

So I am writing a few more, even though I have constant trouble finding poems which appeal. Of course, when I do find them they are usually in copyright which creates additional problems. Having done a setting of a poem which perfectly appealed to me I am now working on something else setting a poem which is less appealing. The theory being that it is good for me to occasionally write settings of tricky poems.

Which brings me to another conundrum which I have never really solved. When setting modern verse, where the sense goes counter to the metre, which do you follow. With stanzas or lines ending mid-sense and the sense continuing into the following line, do you let the structure of the poem guide you or the sense of the prosody. Usually I follow the sense of the words but I then feel guilty that I am not making more of the structural feel of the poet's work.

Though I have always had a tendency to pull text apart. When setting prose I can usually be relied upon to edit the text, missing out, adding and repeating words to create a satisfying whole, satisfying to me that is! I have a similar habit in poetry, though I try not to miss bits out. Usually the results ignore the structural form of the piece. My setting of Lord Alfred Douglas's sonnet on the death of Oscar Wilde rather ignored the piece's sonnet form and set it like a piece of poetic prose.

This of course reflects my uneasy relationship with words. I work best setting poetic prose, like the Bible or Thomas Cranmer. When setting a poem which has metre and rhyme I feel constrained and, I think, rather worried that the result will simply turn into a te-tum te-tum te-tum te-tum type of song, familiar from my cabaret years.

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