Song Cycles 2

Photo by Caroline Carsky for the cover of Paula Downes' DVD of film adaptations of Songs Cycles by Andrew Downes

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2. Voice and Piano continued

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on February 1st, 2020

On this page, "Song Cycles 2" 
Three cycles: settings of poems by Edgar Lee Masters, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Eliza Acton and Wilfred Owen.  Also two further cycles: settings of words by William Shakespeare and Persephone Trippett.

On "Song Cycles 1":
Casterbridge Fair - Baritone and Piano
Old Love's Domain - Tenor and Piano (can be sung by Soprano)

On this page, "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)
Three Songs of William Shakespesre - Soprano and Piano
Songs of Persephone - Soprano and Piano

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

Have you performed in this work or come to watch? Please share below!

SONGS FROM SPOON RIVER Opus 39 (1986) more info

A setting of 5 poems from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology for mezzo soprano and piano. The poems are: Ollie McGee, Russian Sonia, Rebecca Wasson, Dora Williams and Sarah Brown.

Andrew had been enthusiastic about the singing of mezzo soprano Sarah Walker, ever since singing with her in a 'Cambridge Opera' production of Handel's Julius Caesar in 1972.  Andrew sang the title role and Sarah the role of Cornelia.  I have very fond memories of this wonderful production: I joined the team making the costumes and actually made Sarah's dress!
Andrew wrote to Sarah some years later and offered to write some songs for her.  To Andrew's great joy, Sarah graciously accepted.  Andrew chose to set 5 poems from the Spoon River Anthology of Edgar Lee Masters. These are poems from different imaginary people who are telling their life stories after their death from their graves. 

Andrew went down to Sarah's house in London to play his songs to her.  He was absolutely thrilled that she liked the songs enough to broadcast them on BBC Radio 3!  With pianist Roger Vignoles, Sarah recorded Songs from Spoon River at St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol, on December 8th, 1988.  Their recording was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on July 22nd 1990.

It wasn't long before the songs were given their American premiere, at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1994 by New York Metropolitan Opera Soloist, Stephanie Blythe!  Then, at the University of New Mexico Composers' Symposium in March 1995, a performance was given by Carin Logue with pianist, Joe McCanna.  Andrew and I were at the Symposium, which featured Andrew's music, and we were able to meet Carin and Joe, and attend their performance of Songs from Spoon River.

Left to right: Andrew Downes, Joe McCanna and Carin Logue

Songs from Spoon River have subsequently been performed on numerous occasions by our daughter, Paula, accompanied by David Trippett, Ian Palmer, and Laura Temim respectively.  Paula's performances have taken place in the UK, Europe and in the USA: in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge (May 2000); the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (June 2000); the Conservatoire National de Région d'Aubervillers, Paris (April 2001); the ‘Festival Musiques en Mer’ Mediterranean Cruise (August 2002); Kidderminster Town Hall as part of the Kidderminster Music Festival (final song, September 2003); Church Stretton & South Shropshire Arts Festival (July 2004); the National Portrait Gallery, London (August 2004); the Cathedral Church of St Paul, Boston, Massachusetts (songs 4 & 5, November 2007); Taylor House, Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts (songs 4 & 5, November 2007); the Church of St John the Evangelist, Boston, Massachusetts (April 2008); Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, Massachusetts (October 2008); and the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, London, as part of the Markson's Pianos Concert Series (September 2017). Andrew and I have attended these performances when possible or Paula has sent us recordings if we couldn't go.

In July 2000, we had a memorable day when Paula and David Trippett recorded Andrew's Songs from Spoon River at Birmingham Conservatoire for their CD of 3 Song Cycles by Andrew Downes, entitled 'Old Love's Domain'.  It was our first Lynwood Music CD and I had the job of compiling the text for the booklet. 


Paula Downes (back second from left) and David Trippett (front left) in 2000, when they recorded 3 Song Cycles by Andrew Downes (back right) in Birmingham.

Photo taken in Victoria Square, Birmingham.  The recording engineer, Chris Wilson, is next to Andrew.  Debbie Martin (left) and Yvonne Parsons (front) recorded Andrew's Lost Love with Paula and David on that day also.

Songs from Spoon River from this CD has been broadcast on and many times on Musicians Page Radio, Los Angeles, USA.   

Between 2005 and 2009, Paula and David, at the beginning of their marriage, were living in Harvard, Boston, USA, for David's PhD, and both were working as Pastoral Tutors at the University.  In November 2008, they re-recorded Songs from Spoon River.  Using their recording, Paula made a series of 5 films depicting the songs, and completed them in December 2009.  She included the films on her DVD entitled 'Songs of Love and War':


The films were premiered at Andrew Downes' 60th Birthday Concert at Birmingham Conservatoire on November 29th 2010. 
In this same concert, the songs were also given a live performance by Rose Mitchell (mezzo-soprano) and David Arthur (piano).   

Cards to Andrew and Cynthia after the Andrew Downes' 60th Birthday concert:

In June 2011, Andrew heard that a theatrical production of the songs, directed by Rena Sharon, was to take place at the Frederick Wood Theatre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada!   


In 2014, we were all extremely excited when Paula was invited to submit her films of Songs from Spoon River to be showcased in the Spring Selection of the American Online Film Awards!  Following online voting, her films were chosen as one of the 3 nominees for an award!

Paula's film of Songs from Spoon River was also shown at the National Film Theatre, London, on April 17th 2016, at the launch of Andrew's CD recordings by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra of his Symphonies 1-4 and 2 overtures.         

At the BFI Southbank for the CD Launch of Andrew Downes' Symphonies performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the showing of Paula Downes' Songs from Spoon River films. Left to right: Anna Downes, Andrew Downes, Cynthia Downes, David Trippett, Paula Downes.

In April 2019 Paula, accompanied by Richard Black, sang 
Sarah Brown from the Cycle in a concert about birds at East Finchley Methodist Church; and Rachel Hickman, accompanied by Mark Thompson, performed the cycle in May 2019 at the Big Retreat Festival in Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire, Wales.         

SONGS OF LOVE Opus 91 (2006) more info
Settings of 4 poems for high soprano and piano. 
The poems are: 
How do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet 
One Blessing Had I by Emily Dickinson; I Love Thee by Eliza Acton. 

While our daughter Paula and her husband, pianist and musicologist David Trippett, were living at Harvard for David's PhD, Andrew composed these songs for them.  The two gave a wonderful first performance at University Hall, Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on Thursday February 1st 2007.  Andrew and I were thrilled to be able to fly over to spend some time with Paula and David and attend their premiere performance of Andrew's beautiful songs.

The first British premiere, which we also attended, was given by Jenny Saunders (soprano) and Julian Hellaby (piano) at the Ellen Terry Building, Coventry University, on February 28th 2009.  They too gave a first class performance, a real thrill for Andrew and me. 

Andrew was to delighted to discover online that One Blessing Had I from the cycle was performed by Harrah Friedlander accompanied by Jason Carlson at Lutkin Hall, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA in June 2012. 

The whole work was performed in the Recital Hall of Birmingham Conservatoire, in the final of the 2015 Andrew Downes Performance Prize competition, by Eleanor Hodkinson (soprano) with Tingting Yao (piano).  Andrew wasn't well enough to attend, but our daughter Anna acted as a judge in the competition. 

Paula performed the cycle with pianist Tony Bridgewater, in their recital at the Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, in October 2017 and gave 2 more performances with Tony Bridgewater in July 2018: in St Andrew's Church, Rugby, and in St Alphège Church, Solhull.  In October and November of that year, accompanied by Clare Bullimore, Paula sang I Love Thee from the cycle in St Clements's Church, Cambridge, the OCR of Trinity College, Cambridge, and in Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge, as part of concerts with discussions on Climate Change, with guest speaker, Dr Hugh Hunt.  I managed to get to most of these events, travelling by train and getting straight back for Andrew, who was not well enough by this time to make the journeys.

In February 2011, Paula, with her husband, David Trippett (piano), recorded the cycle.  Using their recording, Paula made a series of 4 films depicting the songs, which she completed in August 2011 in Cambridge  UK, where they were now living.  Paula and David's first daughter, Penny, was born that year and makes her debut in these films too!  This set of films is also on the DVD of short films by Paula entitled Songs of Love and War.

In 2010 Lee Armstrong arranged the songs for soprano solo and an ensemble of 10 solo strings, for first performance in St George's Church, Edgbaston, Birmingham (UK), on May 1st 2010, by Paula and Central England Ensemble, conducted by Lee Armstrong himself.  I was thrilled to play (viola) in this performance and we gave a second performance of Lee's arrangement on December 8th 2010 in Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery.

FINISHED FIELDS Opus 95 (2007) more info

A cycle of 4 songs to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the death of Wilfred Owen. The songs are settings of poems by this great World War 1 poet: 1914, Futility, Asleep and Happiness.   

In 2007, Duncan Honeyborne, champion of all of Andrew's works for piano, asked Andrew if he would be interested in composing some songs for the 90th anniversary of both the death of Wilfred Owen and the end of World War 1, for baritone Jonathan Pugsley, accompanied by Duncan himself, to be premiered in their recital commemorating Armistice Day at St Mary’s Church, Weymouth, Dorset, on Wednesday November 12th 2008.  Andrew was very taken with the opportunity to set the poetry of Wilfred Owen, particularly for Duncan, and for Jonathan, who had sung the role of Gabriel Oak in Andrew's opera, Far from the Madding Crowd.  Andrew wrote a profoundly beautiful Cycle of 4 Songs, which he entitled Finished Fields, after the famous line in the poem Asleep.  Duncan and Jonathan also entitled their recital 'Finished Fields', and gave a repeat performance of the concert on Friday November 14th at Holy Trinity Church, Eccleshall, Staffordshire, the home town of Duncan's great-grandfather, who was killed in the first World War. 
Andrew and I were able to attend both of these premiere performances.

The World Premiere:

2nd performance in Eccleshall:

Our daughter Paula (soprano) and David Trippett (piano) gave the USA premiere of this cycle at the Memorial Church, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 27th 2009, and a subsequent performance at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England, in October 2010, which, I remember, was particularly well received by a large audience, including my nephew, who was over from Finland.

Paula then created 4 films for the songs.
She again featured her daughter, Penny, and also Anna's son, Max, in the films, in scenes remembering life at home from the front.

Paula uses the films in her educational resources, as part of a cross-curricular lesson on the First World War and includes the cycle on her DVD, Songs of Love and War.

In October and November 2018 Paula gave performances of Finished Fields as part of her recitals and discussions on Global Warming, with pianist Claire Bullimore, and Climate Change expert Dr Hugh Hunt: in St Clements's Church, Cambridge, in the OCR of Trinity College, Cambridge, and in Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge.  Her posters can be seen above under Songs of Love.

During and shortly after the covid-19 pandemic, Andrew composed Three Songs of William Shakespeare and Songs of Persephone.  I talk about these more fully in my blog post entitled Works Composed during the Pandemic.

Have you performed in any of these works or come to watch?

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If you have performed in any of Andrew Downes' works or come to listen, please share your experiences in the Premieres Blog! Also see what others have said. Thank you so much for your contribution.