“Benjamin Britten’s Songs from the Chinese was written in Autumn 1957 for Peter Pears and is unique in his song cycle output in being scored for voice and guitar, a consequence of his friendship with the great classical guitarist Julian Bream (for whom Britten was later to compose the Nocturnal after John Dowland in 1963). The songs are settings of translations by Arthur Waley of Chinese poetry, some of it dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. The musical ideas and textures show Britten’s knowledge of both the qualities and limitations of the guitar, and the songs cover familiar Britten themes of innocence, loss and regret.” The Britten-Pears Foundation
“Farewell to Stromness is a piano interlude from The Yellow Cake Revue, a sequence of cabaret-style numbers protesting against uranium mining in the Orkney Islands. The Revue was first performed at the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, by Eleanor Bron with the composer at the piano, in June 1980. This performance inspired Timothy Walker to transcribe Farewell to Stromness for guitar. He performed it two days later in Kirkwall Cathedral as part of the same festival.” Publisher’s Note
Dark Angels, written in 1974 by Peter Maxwell Davies, consists of two songs separated by a guitar solo. The songs set poems by George Mackay Brown from his cycle fishermen with ploughs. The poems are an exploration of Orcadian life and landscape, and mourn the emptying of a once populous community. The surrounding mountains (the Dark Angels of the title) witness stilled industry, the department of the young, and death, real or symbolic. Hugely dramatic, this set showcases the wide vocal range of the singer and a host of extended techniques for the guitarist.
“Each of the Five Lullabies, settings of texts by Roz Kaveney, transforms the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations in a different way. In Lullaby IV the notes are shared equally between the voice and the guitar, resulting in a delicate, sparse accompaniment. The guitar's much more substantial part in Lullaby II, with expansive chords and soloistic passages, often provides a harmonic framework through which the odd melody winds." Philip Lawton
In Five Poems of Emily Dickinson the poet’s unique blend of obscurantism and vulnerable reveal are matched by music that slips easily from more demanding touches of polytonality and theatrical gestures to an almost folk-like simplicity. “The cycle is constructed in a sort of arch form, with tempos of slow-fast-slow-fast-slow. The texts exhibit Dickinson’s characteristic charm, wit, and pathos, and I have tried to support them with similar musical sentiments.” Jonathan Kulp.
The Nocturnal after John Dowland was first performed by Julian Bream at the 1974 Aldeburgh festival and has since become one of the most important and celebrated pieces in the modern repertoire of the classical guitar. It is a retrograde set of variations on Dowland’s lute song ‘Come, Heavy Sleep.’ There are first seven short movements, each derived from melodic material from the song but reflecting on different aspects of the journey toward sleep (or death) followed by a more lengthy Passacaglia with an incessantly repeated descending bassline which takes us on a journey to the finale, an almost completely unchanged transcription of the Dowland song which closes the work. Writing for the guitar is notoriously difficult, but Britten was a composer of such talent that Julian Bream is said to say that of all the works written for him, this is the only one where he didn’t have to change a single note.
Come, heavy Sleep, the image of true Death,
And close up these my weary weeping eyes,
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vital breath,
And tears my heart with Sorrow’s sigh-swoll’n cries.
Come and possess my tired thought-worn soul,
That living dies, till thou on me be stole.