Photo of Abbotsbury, Dorset, by Diliff.
An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on January 20th, 2020
On this page, "Song Cycles 1"
Two cycles, settings of poems by Dorset born poet, Thomas Hardy:
On "Song Cycles 2":
Songs from Spoon River - Soprano (mezzo) and Piano
Songs of Love - Soprano (high) and Piano
Finished Fields - Baritone and Piano (version available for Soprano)
On "Song Cycles 3" - Soloists with Instrumental Accompaniment:
Five Holy Songs - Counter-tenor, mezzo soprano or baritone with 3 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and double bass
Lost Love - soprano with tenor recorder/flute; viol da gamba/cello; harpsichord/piano
Dreamland - soprano voice, soprano saxophone and piano (the soprano saxophone can be substituted with clarinet in Bb or violin)
The Four Songs of Bluebeard's Wife - soprano with violin and piano
The Door of Winter - soprano with violin, viola and piano
On "Song Cycles 4" - Soprano Soloist with Symphony Orchestra
CASTERBRIDGE FAIR Opus 1 (1973) more info
Andrew wrote this, his first song cycle, in 1973, when he was studying composition with Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music.
Herbert Howells wrote of Andrew in his report: "In a quiet (but strong) way one of the most effective composers coming to me these days. I have very considerable hopes for him."
Casterbridge Fair is a setting of 5 Thomas Hardy poems for baritone and piano. The poems are: The Ballad Singer, Former Beauties, A Wife Waits, After the Club Dance and After the Fair.
At the same time as Andrew was having composition lessons with Herbert Howells at the Royal College, he was also studying singing there with Gordon Clinton. One day he had a clogged up throat for his singing lesson. He suggested singing his Song Cycle to Gordon, because it was less athletic than the arias he was studying. Gordon Clinton, who was also Head of the Birmingham School of Music, was very taken with the songs and organised for the cycle to be first performed by his superb bass/baritone student, Michael George, accompanied by Ruth Gerald, at the opening concert in the newly built Recital Hall of the Birmingham School of Music (later renamed Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) on June 11th 1973.
We were thrilled to read this comment in the Musical Times following the event:
'The songs impressed by their expressive and beautifully shaped vocal line and simple though telling accompaniments.'
Andrew himself then performed the songs, with accompanist Angela Sleeman, at Thames Valley Grammar School, Twickenham, Middlesex, where they were both teachers of Music, in October 1974.
In 1980 I entered the work into the Stroud Festival International Composers' Competition. It reached the final 3 and was performed in the Prizewinners' Recital at Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire, by Malcolm Singer (baritone) and Christine Crowshaw (piano), in October of that year, as part of the Stroud Festival.
Because this was an early piece, Andrew's original score was written out in blue biro, very difficult to photocopy. So eventually I typeset it, and as a result of the more user-friendly copies, several performances of the songs have been given by students from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, in particular the prizewinning performance of the 2015 Andrew Downes Performance Prize competition, given by Andrew Randall (baritone) with Tingting Yao (piano), in the Conservatoire Recital Hall (the very same hall as the 1973 premiere had taken place). Andrew Randall and Tingting Yao gave a further performance of the work in their prizewinners' recital in March 2017, again in the Birmingham Conservatoire Recital Hall. This was one of the last recitals in this hall before Birmingham Conservatoire was demolished and moved to its newly built premises at Millennium Point, Birmingham.
OLD LOVE'S DOMAIN Opus 29 (1983) more info
A setting of 5 Thomas Hardy poems for tenor (or soprano) and piano. The poems are: The Division, Something Tapp'd, Where the Picnic Was, At Castle Boterel and The Curtains Now Are Drawn.
In the early 1980s the renowned tenor, John Mitchinson, came to teach at the Birmingham School of Music. Andrew had long admired John's wonderful tenor voice and was delighted to meet him. Andrew was even more thrilled when John asked him to write a Song Cycle for him. Andrew again turned to his favourite poet, Thomas Hardy, for texts and composed 5 exquisite songs.
Andrew was even more excited when John Mitchinson, accompanied by pianist Michael Pollock, recorded the songs for BBC Radio 3 on 4th June 1985 at the BBC Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham. This first performance was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 28th October 1985. To our immense delight, John Mitchinson, with Michael Pollock, gave subsequent performances on Radio 3, and with Mark Racz he performed the cycle in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, in December 1987.
In December 1999 Songs 2 and 5 from the Cycle were performed by Nicola Ogborn, accompanied by Jane Samuel, in the Sir Geraint Evans Recital Room of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
In a concert of music by Andrew Downes on June 21st 2005, in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (to mark Andrew's retirement from Birmingham Conservatoire), the cycle was performed by tenor Julian Pike with accompanist Simon Nicholls. Julian Pike, accompanied by Duncan Honeybourne, then performed the cycle at the 2006 Thomas Hardy Festival in Dorchester, Dorset.
Andrew was very pleased with this review by Richard Bratby in the Birmingham Post the day after the performance by Julian Pike and Simon Nicholls:
'...on the words "my weary beloved's face", as tenor Julian Pike quietly created a key change and two sparse chords chimed on the piano, there came that sudden, involuntary rush of emotion that told you this was the real thing.
'This masterly, haunting cycle made a poignant finish to a genuinely affecting evening of Downes' music.'
Our daughters, violinist Anna and soprano Paula Downes, have always championed their father's music. Paula, accompanied respectively by Verene Rimlinger, Anna Downes, Mark Williams, Andrew Tortise, Heather Fairs, Nicholas Wright, Duncan Honeybourne, Gillian Cracknell and David Trippett, has given numerous performances of Old Love's Domain in Europe and the USA. Paula gained a choral scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge in 1998 and has performed Old Love's Domain on numerous occasions during her student years and beyond, both in Cambridge and elsewhere: at the Candili Singing Course, Greece (August 1999); St John's Church, Hagley (2 songs, September 1999); the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge (November 1999); the Bateman Auditorium of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (January 2000); the Master's Lodge of Trinity College, Cambridge, (February 2000); the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (May 2001); Chateau Impney, Droitwich, Worcestershire (2 songs, July 2001); Birmingham Cathedral (July 2002); Hanley Swan Church, Worcestershire (2 songs, October 2002); the ‘Festival Musiques en Mer’ Mediterranean Cruise (August 2002); Y Tabernacl, Machynlleth (April 2003); Weymouth Music Club (July 2003); Kidderminster Town Hall (final song, September 2003); the Art Gallery, Wednesbury (April 2004); St Sepulchre's Church, Holborn, London (February 2005).
Paula Downes rehearsing "The curtains now are drawn" from Andrew Downes' Old Love's Domain, accompanied by Verene Rimlinger at Michael Chance's Candilli Singing Course in Greece, 1999.
Paula Downes and David Trippett rehearsing in Birmingham Cathedral just before their recital, with Cynthia Downes page-turning.
In 2005 Paula married David Trippett and both became Pastoral Tutors at Harvard University during David's time as a post graduate student of Music there. Accompanied by her husband, Paula continued to include Andrew's music in her recitals. She and David performed Old Love's Domain in the Church of St John the Evangelist, Bowdain Street, Boston, Massachussets, USA, in September 2008. Back in England they gave performances of the cycle at Bristol Music Club in February 2014 and then in the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, London, as part of the Markson's Pianos Concert Series in September 2017. Andrew and I both enjoyed going to a number of these performances in the UK and the USA. For the London concert, we looked after Paula and David's little daughters during it!
Sketch by Ronald Stein during Paula and David's concert for Markson Piano Series in 2017.
After the recital for Markson Piano Series: Andrew Downes, Paula Downes, David Trippett and their two daughters.
Paula recorded the work with David Trippett at Birmingham Conservatoire in July 2000 on a CD which she made of song cycles by Andrew Downes, entitled 'Old Love's Domain', produced by Chris Wilson and sold by me on our Lynwood Music label.
While in the USA, Paula attended a course at the New York Film Academy. In February 2011, Paula, with David Trippett, re-recorded Old Love's Domain, and using this recording, Paula made a series of 5 films depicting the songs, which she completed in October 2012. She did a lot of the filming on our family holiday in North Devon that year and featured Anna's husband, Mike, as Thomas Hardy. I remember Paula finding a perfect suit for Mike in a charity shop! Paula also asked Anna & Mike's sons, Oscar and Max, to take part in the film of the 3rd song, which she filmed over the Clent Hills in Worcectershire. Paula herself also featured in the films. I often found myself operating the camera! Anna had the job of watching Paula's lively toddler, Penny! For the 4th song, Paula hired a pony and trap from a local Worcectershire farm. The farmer's wife drove and Mike sat next to her with a set of reins to make it look as though he was driving! These films are now on a DVD of short films by Paula Downes, of songs by Andrew Downes, entitled Songs of Love and War. The films can also be seen online: at andrewdownes.com or pauladownes.com
Paula has written articles on Analysis and Performance of Old Love's Domain, accompanied by her films, for her Music Education website, www.musiceducationwhiz.com. These include: 'A Survey of the Literature'; a 'Case Study of Andrew Downes' Old Love's Domain'; and 'Analysis and Performance through film' of each song in the Cycle.
Paula has also used her films in a Key Stage 3 lesson on the same Music Education Website, as part of a cross-curricular lesson on Thomas Hardy.
We would love to hear about your experience. Please share it here!
Move on to "Song Cycles 2"