Song Cycles 3

Soloists with Instrumental Accompaniment

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

Follow Cynthia Downes on Instagram to keep up-to-date with her blog posts.

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on March 30th, 2020

On this page, "Song Cycles 3" -  Soloists with Instrumental Accompaniment:
Settings of poems by John Donne, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allan Poe, Julie Boden and Bernard Davis

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

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 this page, "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
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!


A setting of 5 poems by John Donne for counter-tenor, mezzo-soprano or baritone with 3 violins, 2 violas, 2 'cellos and double bass. The poems are: I Sing the Progress of a Deathless Soul; Spit in my Face Ye Jews; The Virgins; When Senses, Which They Soldiers Are; Hear us, O Hear us, Lord. More info

Andrew wrote these songs in Blakedown, Worcestershire, right at the beginning of his time at the Birmingham School of Music (now renamed the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire).  He premiered the songs himself on 17th November 1975 in the Recital Hall of the Birmingham School of Music with a group of excellent students: Caroline Mounsey, Stephen Muth, Kevin Vaughan (violins), Penny Midmer, Susan Ward (violas), David Thorne, Catherine Clarke (cellos) and Roderick Dunk (double bass).  Premieres are always nerve-wracking and this one was no exception: Roderick Dunk got held up, missed the final rehearsal and just arrived minutes before the actual performance, with only just enough time to get his double bass out of its case!  Andrew and I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  

These same artists gave subsequent performances of the work at Ripple Church, Upton-on-Severn, as part of the Upton Association of the Arts concert series (April 1976), and at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge (May 1976), which both went without mishap! 

This is one Andrew's early works which he wrote out by hand in blue biro and which I have since typeset.  

Our daughter Paula created an exquisite, multitrack promotional recording of Five Holy Songs in 2020, performing the violin, viola and voice parts herself and mixing it with synthesised sounds. You can hear it here.

A letter from Michael Rippon about the songs:

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A setting of 4 Thomas Hardy poems for soprano soloist with tenor recorder/flute; viol da gamba/cello; harpsichord/piano. The poems are: The Walk; Lost Love; A Night in November; Last Love Word. More info

This work has always been a cherished favourite of mine.  The songs were commissioned by the Musica Antiqua Soloists and first performed by Catherine James (soprano), Patricia Bird (recorder), Jean Gubbins (viol da Gamba) and David Walters (harpsichord).  The premiere was billed to take place in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but the players also slipped in a pre-premiere in St Columbia Church, Moseley, on March 20th 1978.  

These artists then performed the work again at Aston University Centre for the Arts in October 1978.

In January 1987, Sarah Stobart with the Halcyon Ensemble performed the cycle: 

In June that same year, in the Recital Hall of Birmingham Conservatoire, Gillian Robinson with Instrumentalists from the 20th Century Workshop included Lost Love in their concert:

A subsequent performance by Catherine James with the Musica Antiqua Soloists took place in Birmingham Cathedral in November 1988.  Their programme featured principally a Handel Cantata.  At they end of the concert, a lady came up to Andrew to tell him how much she had loved his songs.  She said, "Even Mr Handel paled into insignificance!"

They repeated their programme in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham:

When our daughter Paula was at Cambridge University she introduced Lost Love to the music scene there.  It was performed at student recitals, given in Trinity College (by Paula, soprano, Kirsten Howie, flute, Tim Rowe, cello, and Matthew Price, piano, in November 1998) and in Queen's College (by Georgeanna Williams, soprano, Kirsten Howie, flute, Hannah Thomas, cello, and James Weeks, piano, in February 1999);  

Back in the Midlands, Paula organised a performance in the 'Live and Local' concert series in St James's Church, Wollaston (by - herself, soprano, Eliza Marshall, flute, Yvonne Parsons, cello and Mike Smith, piano) in June 2002:

In the USA I have sold a number of copies of Lost Love to retailers. Performances which we knew about were given at King's Chapel, Boston, by Paula (soprano), David Trippett (harpsichord), Arielle Hansen (flute) and Elizabeth Main (cello) in October 2006; and at the MIT Chapel, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Paula (soprano), David Trippett (harpsichord), Jen Bliss (recorder) and Hannah Thomas (cello) in February 2009.

In July 2000, Paula, with David Trippett (piano), Debbie Martin (flute) and Yvonne Parsons (cello) recorded the work for CD, produced by Chris Wilson, at Birmingham Conservatoire.  We had a lovely time at the recording and a delicious lunch in the Italian restaurant next door! 

Left to right: Debbie Martin, Yvonne Parsons, David Trippett, Paula Downes

From front left clockwise around table: Yvonne Parsons, Debbie Martin, David Trippett, Paula Downes, Andrew Downes, Chris Wilson

Back left to right: Debbie Martin, Paula Downes, Chris Wilson, Andrew Downes
Front left to right: David Trippett, Yvonne Parsons

I created the CD booklet and learnt a lot about the layout on the computer from the local firm who printed it. 

In February 2011, Paula, with David Trippett (piano), Sarah Mondon (flute) and Joanne Jefferis (cello) made a new recording of the cycle.  Using this recording, Paula created a series of 4 films depicting the songs, which she completed in July 2012.  Paula's films can be viewed on YouTube and are also on the DVD of short films by Paula, entitled Songs of Love and War.  Here is a clip of one my favourite moments in song 2.  

Andrew tragically died on January 2nd 2023.  At his funeral on February 6th, Paula, David and Joanne Jefferis performed the first song from the Cycle, The Walk.

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Poem by Edgar Allen Poe set to music for soprano voice, soprano saxophone and piano (the soprano saxophone can be substituted with clarinet in Bb or violin, for which I created parts  (available from this website). More info

In 1988, Andrew was asked by saxophonist Nigel Wood to compose a work for himself with soprano Antonietta Pelosi and pianist Caroline Costello.  They were awarded funds from West Midlands Arts for the commission.  Andrew was delighted to be asked, and turned to the American poet Edgar Allan Poe.  He was inspired by Poe's beautfully atmospheric poem, Dream-Land.  Andrew's setting of this poem is an exquisitely etherial depiction of a night of disturbed and beautiful dreams: the soprano conveys the haunting words, the saxophone comments on each mood and the piano further expresses the emotions and leads from section to section.  The first performance, given by Antonietta, Nigel and Caroline, given in the Recital Hall of Birmingham Conservatoire on 7th December 1988 was absolutely beautiful and powerfully evocative.

The premiere was included in Andrew's 20th Century Workshop concerts series.  Andrew set up this series to perform student composers' works.  He was a pioneer in his approach to composition studies.  No other Institution at the time believed in performing students' compositions.

Numerous subsequent performances by different artists have taken place in Birmingham, London, other UK venues and the USA.   

Andrew's 20th Century Workshop concerts soon developed into a week- long annual 'Music Extra Festival'.  In the December 1992 Festival, Dream-Land was chosen for one of the concerts:

In 2003, Andrew was overjoyed to receive a message that his musical setting of Dream-Land was to be given it's USA premiere on 2nd November 2003 in New York!  New York Metropolitan Opera soprano, Deborah Saverance, with Paul Cohen, saxophone, and David Maiullo, piano, were to perform it in a concert entitled ‘Poe as Parlor Music’, in honour of the publication of Edgar Allan Poe - Poems and Poetics by the Library of America, produced by the New York Literary Roundtable for the New York Historical Society and presented by TimeOut NewYork!  

Andrew was sent a recording and was delighted with their performance, and even more delighted when he read the following report in Plymouth State University Journal: ‘The most striking examples of otherworldliness were in Andrew Downes’ Dream-Land (US premier), sung by Deborah Saverance with Paul Cohen on saxophone and David Maiullo on piano, and Leonard Bernstein’s Israfel… These two pieces, in their emotionally astute and beautifully sung arrangements, took Poe’s words far into the realm of the spirit.'  


Emails between Andrew and Cynthia Downes and the performers:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The first performance with clarinet (instead of soprano saxophone) was given by our daughter Paula (soprano), Kylie Redman (clarinet) and David Trippett (piano) on August 17 2004 in the Church of St Lawrence Jewry-next-Guildhall, London.  Andrew and I were delighted to attend their excellent concert. 

The first performance with violin (instead of soprano saxophone) was given by our daughters Paula (soprano) and Anna (violin) with Duncan Honeybourne (piano) on May 11th 2005 at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery.  it was magical.

Anna and Paula performed the work with pianist Gillian Cracknell a couple of months later in London, at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate:

They performed the work with Duncan Honeybourne again in Peterborough Cathedral in August 2014 2005.  Andrew and I were due to drive to Peterborough for the recital, but Andrew badly scalded his leg the day before with a cup of boiling hot coffee, and we were advised by the burns specialist who treated him not to go.  The burn took a long time to heal, but we were able to listen to their beautiful recording of the recital, which was given to a large and appreciative audience in the cathedral. 

The first American performance with violin (instead of soprano saxophone) was given by our daughters Paula (soprano), and Anna (violin), with David Trippett (piano), on October 26th 2005 at Adams House, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.  Paula and David had just settled in as Pastoral Tutors at Adam's House, Harvard (where David was studying for a post graduate doctoctorate), following their marriage in the summer of that year.  Andrew and I went over for the Dream-Land performance and enjoyed a lovely family reunion at the same time.  Anna was just pregnant with Oscar, our first grandchild!

In September 2016 the work was performed by the Amabile Trio (Paula -soprano, Anna - violin, and Duncan Honeybourne - piano) as part of Andrew Downes' 65th Birthday Concert at Birmingham Cathedral. Read the Birmingham Post Review.  

In October 2016 Paula, with Sally MacTaggart (soprano saxophone) and David Trippett (piano), performed the work in their recital in the OCR, Trinity College, Cambridge, and then recorded it in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, for SoundCloud and a beautiful online film.  I made a swift visit to attend their concert, and returned next morning to Andrew, who was not well enough to travel, and couldn't access the concert, because of the steps up to the OCR. 

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A setting of 4 poems by Julie Boden for soprano soloist with violin and piano. The poems are: Dawn; Noon; Evening; Night. More info

Andrew had first met Julie Boden in 2005.  Julie, as poet-in-Residence at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, had been asked to write poetry with children from Birmingham schools in celebration of British Airways.  Andrew had been asked to set the poems to music and created his Songs of the Skies, which were performed by over a thousand children in Symphony Hall in October of that year.  Andrew was very taken with Julie's talent, and in 2014, decided to set some more of her poetry.  Julie sent him some of her latest work, and Andrew was inspired by the atmosphere of foreboding in the poems which she had written portraying the life of Bluebeard's wife.  Andrew fully recreated underlying hints of menace throughout the poems, and at the same time portrayed the romance suggested in the verse exquisitely.

The story of Bluebeard is said to come from the folklore of Brittany, France. Bluebeard is a wealthy, powerful and ugly nobleman, who has been married several times to beautiful women, who have all mysteriously vanished. When Bluebeard visits his neighbour, he chooses the youngest daughter to be his wife - against her will - and she goes to live with him in his rich and luxurious palace in the countryside, away from her family.  Bluebeard announces that he must leave the country and gives the keys of the château to his wife.  She is able to open the door to any room in the house with the keys.  Each of the rooms contains some of Bluebeard's riches, except for an underground chamber that he strictly forbids her to enter, lest she suffer his wrath...  The songs convey the feeling of foreboding as we fear the fate of this wife. The songs were first performed by Paula Downes (soprano soloist), Anna Downes (violin) and Tony Bridgewater (piano) in the Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery on 12th April 2017. Andrew & I and Julie Boden were all present at the premiere.

In April 2019, Paula, Anna and Tony performed 'Noon' from the cycle at Great St Mary's Church, Cambridge. 

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A setting of 5 poems by Bernard Davis for soprano soloist with violin, viola and piano.The poems are: Man you are dust; Let go; A Canopy of Crows; My Friend the Heron; All Souls Night. More info

Andrew wrote the viola part in this work especially for me. I used to practise it with the computer generated version, karaoke style, each evening, just after Andrew had gone to bed. He always said how much he enjoyed his nightly concert. As a result I wasn't nervous for the premiere!

As the titles suggest, the songs describe, in words and music, various aspects of autumn. They were first performed in the same concert as The Four Songs of Bluebeard's Wife on 12th April 2017 in the Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery by The Himley Quartet: Paula Downes (soprano soloist), Anna Downes (violin), myself (viola) and Tony Bridgewater (piano).  Both Andrew Downes and Bernard Davis were present at the premiere.  

We gave a second performance of the cycle in Great St Mary's University Church, Cambridge, in October 2017.

In 2019, Paula Downes created arrangements of Songs 3 and 4, 'A Canopy of Crows' and 'My Friend the Heron' for Soprano & Piano only, for a concert about birds at East Finchley Methodist Church, London, in April 2019.  Paula sang the songs with accompanist, Richard Black.

Paula sang these arrangements with her husband, pianist David Trippett at St Clement's Cambridge as part of the #andrewdownes70 series.

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

We would love to hear about your experience. Please share it here!

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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.