Two romantic songs

for Mixed choir SSAATTBB
10 mins.

on poems by John Keats

1: Ode to Autumn
2: To Sleep

Programme notes

These two songs were written in 1995, when I was living in the Akuapem hills in rural Ghana. For many years I had steered clear of setting well-known poetry, feeling that a good poem is best left alone. In December 1994, however, I was asked to make a setting of Keats’ Ode to Autumn, and in a rash moment agreed to do so. When I looked at the poem (which I had not read for years) I was appalled, because it is extremely long, full of purple words and phrases, and is cast in long sentences with tortuous secondary clauses – all of which make it quite unsuitable for setting to music. But I had agreed to do so, and when I started, it became a fascinating task. The commission fell through, of course; but I wrote the setting anyway – partly because of the musical challenge, and partly because I think I was subconsciously hankering to be reconnected with European culture, from which (living in a hilltop African farmhouse surrounded by silk-cotton and mango-trees) I felt very remote. The idea of autumnal mists and mellowness, when one is in a tropical climate which varies little from day to day, is very nostalgic.  To Sleep was added just over a year later, and was written in London. I decided not to impose myself upon Keats, but to let him dominate me; so the style of the music is different from anything I have written – positively lush and romantic. Hence the title.

Giles Swayne 2009