Songs for Departure - FEEDBACK REQUESTED

Hi All,

I am asking once again for feedback on a recent composition for any of you so inclined to take a listen... 

"Songs for Departure" is a 12-13 minute set of three songs based on a tripartite poem by Louise Bogan, scored for mezzo-soprano and two bass clarinets.

Text, score and link to the mockup below.

Caveat: while I am planning to send this to a singer to record in the next week or two, at the moment the singer is unfortunately just MIDI.



p.s. I know I've been derelict in commenting on other's music on this forum and hope to improve that in the future!!

Words for Departure

by Louise Bogan

Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten.
When we awoke, wagons were passing on the warm summer pavements,
The window-sills were wet from rain in the night,
Birds scattered and settled over chimneypots
As among grotesque trees.

Nothing was accepted, nothing looked beyond.
Slight-voiced bells separated hour from hour,
The afternoon sifted coolness
And people drew together in streets becoming deserted.
There was a moon, and light in a shop-front,
And dusk falling like precipitous water.

Hand clasped hand
Forehead still bowed to forehead—
Nothing was lost, nothing possessed
There was no gift nor denial.

I have remembered you.
You were not the town visited once,
Nor the road falling behind running feet.

You were as awkward as flesh
And lighter than frost or ashes.

You were the rind,
And the white-juiced apple,
The song, and the words waiting for music.

You have learned the beginning;
Go from mine to the other.

Be together; eat, dance, despair,
Sleep, be threatened, endure.
You will know the way of that.

But at the end, be insolent;
Be absurd—strike the thing short off;
Be mad—only do not let talk
Wear the bloom from silence.

And go away without fire or lantern
Let there be some uncertainty about your departure.


Songs for Departure (Reelcrafter)

Songs for Departure.pdf

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  • Hi, John- there is absolutely nothing to improve on this. This is a wonderful work, every moment, every motif. Please go have it recorded and then share the outcome with us.  Besides the lovely musicality, I admire how each of the three parts remain distinct throughout, never getting muddy, never stepping on toes.  The crafting is excellent, and it pours musical and emotional impact.


    • Thanks so much, Ray! Your kind words for others are very welcome on this forum.

  • This is beautiful, John. I wouldn't change anything. I love you choice of 2 bass clarinets to accompany the mezzo-soprano. The poem is very evocative and intense, and I'll need to sit with the words longer for a better understanding. 

    I feel I am becoming more familiar with your very distinct and mysterious 'sound'. 


    • Thanks, Greg! Yes, this poet's language is always a bit obscure, though I find that more fun to set.

  • I found this a varied and interesting work which was very nicely scored and at least fitted the atmosphere of the poem well. It's a shame that it's not possible to match the sung words to the text as that would have further enhanced appreciation but I know that virtual solo voices which sing text are virtually non-existent and sympathise with the problem.

    • Thanks for listening, David. I did just send it off to the singer and will share that version when it's available.

    • OK -- will look forward to that


  • The only piece that comes to mind that has a similar intrumentation to this (as in Bass clt and soprano), is the setting of Auden's 'Out on the Lawn I lie in Bed' in Britten's Spring Symphony (given what I'm hearing you might want to check that piece out as the language isn't a million miles away from yours),

    On one hearing, I have to echo everyone else's comments. This is really great and imaginative John. The language feels nicely controlled and inventive and the pacing is spot on. I'd love to hear this when you've recorded the soprano so make sure you post it please.

    EDIT, here's the Britten, I think you'll like it...


    • Thanks, Mike. I don't know this Britten work, though a lot of his music has been influential to me. I will definitely post the updated recording when it's available!

  • I listened as far as 5'18", mesmerised by the mood the work cast. It felt almost surreal at times, fitting the words well.

    You've taken remarkably good advantage of the big compass and dynamic range of these instruments, the tempo (generally) contemplative, The tone modern but falling into moments of tonality that seemed just right (as in bar 31, for instance). I'm entirely happy with this style of composition. It's superb that you have got so much out of these resources.

    My only crit is that you should perhaps for demo purposes give the 'voice' more presence and the same attention to dynamics as you have the clarinets. I wasn't sure which instrument you used to represent the voice but it was clear enough.

    Your score is highly detailed and really this cries out for live performance. A lovely work.


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