Lakesongs: A Song-Cycle for Mezzo-Soprano, Viola and Piano

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Lakesongs is a setting of three poems, rather unsurprisingly with lakes as a somewhat oblique subject matter. I was commissioned to write a companion piece to the Brahms Two Songs for alto, viola and piano and to draw upon the vast literary heritage of the Lake Poets as my inspiration – unfortunately I didn’t gel with the Romantic poets and needed to look a little further afield for my texts. The idea of setting poems with lakes as the theme came to me after listening to Elgar’s Sea Pictures and gave me the opportunity to set diverse poets all with the same general theme.

I say that lakes are an oblique subject matter as none of the three poems goes to great lengths to describe the lake in question; rather there is an omnipresence of a lake in all of the poems with a constant, unfaltering, monotonous presence. William Wilfred Campbell’s A Lake Memory has a lake ‘throbbing in with voice of pain’ whereas Yeats has ‘lake water lapping with low sounds’ – this is a depiction of nature at its most sublime – a terror when faced with the unremitting force of nature. Edith Sitwell’s By The Lake goes further and doesn’t mention a lake but suggests a frozen wilderness, it is precisely that the lake is ‘not’ present that emphasises the emotional bleakness of the poem.

Lakesongs is very different in character to the Brahms songs and charts a descent into austerity from the warm tones of the opening A Major ostinato of A Lake Memory through the sparseness of The Lake Isle of Innisfree to the wintery tone of By The Lake. The inclusion of the viola with its very natural, almost human voice and tone adds an extra subtext to the work and the poems – it often has the role of a commentator, a distant representation of the emotional content and dark melancholy of the lakes mentioned.

Lakesongs is dedicated to Andrew Lucas, Renna Kellaway and the Lake District Summer Music Festival for all the help and input they have given me in my career so far, and to many more exciting future collaborations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Jun 2011


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