William Carlos Williams (E)
This cycle to 13 poems by William Carlos Williams was commissioned by Peter Pears and first performed by him with Stephen Ralls at the 1977 Aldeburgh Festival. With great trepidation I wrote for the great tenor in the year after his great partner’s death! And, it must be admitted, with memories of the ringing younger voice in mind rather than the more limited resources of his later phase (indeed I’d first mooted a Larkin-cycle which would have taxed it beyond its then powers: this was actually written a bit later – for baritone!). And of course Pears performed with his customary flair – in particular his profound sensitivity to every shade of meaning in words and music alike.
Williams’ deceptively fragile texts appealed deeply at a time when I was trying to thin down and essentialize in the spirit of Britten. My choices make a seasonal cycle not specified as such by the poet: from Winter – a slow, sluggish start – through Spring and the dawning of love – its still centre the celebrated lines about the delicious plums purloined from the icebox (thence to the perfectly rotten apple delightfully pictured in the cover-design for the songs’ publication). Then a burning section – balancing the earlier slow-motion – through Summer and Autumn, to reach the re-approach of a second Winter fired up now by all that precedes. The closing poem CONQUEST is split halfway by a mystic marriage of flame and ice, then resumed and concluded in an apotheosis of the secret plum/apple in a blaze of white
© Robin Holloway 2009
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