The Three Auden Songs were commissioned by Conor Biggs and received their first performance
in the National Concert Hall, Dublin on 19th January 2007 sung by Conor Biggs, bass-
The first poem, Musée des Beaux Arts, has as its inspiration Brueghel's painting
The Fall of Icarus, which hangs in the museum of the same name in Brussels. The curious
thing about the painting is that one has to look quite hard to discern Icarus at
all. The main interest seems to be a tranquil land-
The second song, Roman Wall Blues, is a cabaret number about a roman soldier stationed on the Scottish Borders. His girlfriend is miles away in Tungria (an area around the middle stretch of the river Meuse in modern Belgium) and he has to put up with the disgusting weather on Hadrian's Wall. Download as .pdf file here.
Autumn Song is a sad song about what might have been, about the pressure of society
on the individual, about our faint-
Biggs, Ó Cuinneagáin: NCH, Dublin Institute of Technology
Critic: Andrew Johnstone
Irish Times, Tuesday, 23 January 2007
To say that bass-
Their mostly Russian selections were neatly arranged like a Russian doll, with an outer layer of Rachmaninov and an inner one of Tchaikovsky. At the centre, and receiving its first performance, was a song cycle by English composer Andrew Wise, who, like Biggs, is a resident of Belgium.
Tackling three Auden poems from the 1930s, Wise’s cycle is in a colourful and aptly
It’s not unknown for leading vocalists to refer to a score during song recitals. Biggs, however, had committed this new material to memory – as he had the swathes of Russian verse. His preparedness extended from the mental realm to the vocal, with the initial vowel of every song hitting its mark of grit, tenderness or trepidation.
In a repertory that’s popularly associated with the rumblings of bassi profundi, Bigg’s svelte tones and Ó Cuinneagáin’s polished and artfully scaled accompaniments made for a satisfying mix, both technically and emotionally, of gravitas and agility.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
poem by W.H. Auden
Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.
The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.
The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.
Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.
Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
There'd be no kissing if he had his wish.
She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.
When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.
poem by W.H. Auden
Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse's flowers will not last,
Nurses to their graves are gone,
But the prams go rolling on.
Whispering neighbours left and right,
Daunt us from our true delight,
Able hands are forced to freeze
Derelict on lonely knees.
Close behind us on our track,
Dead in hundreds cry Alack,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.
Scrawny through a plundered wood,
Trolls run scolding for their food,
Owl and nightingale are dumb,
And the angel will not come.
Clear, unscaleable, ahead
Rise the Mountains of Instead,
From whose cold cascading streams
None may drink except in dreams.
poem by W.H. Auden
Written for the Dutch tenor Albert Bonnema
It heitelân Frisian folk song arr. for voice & piano
to listen to Albert Bonnema, tenor & Andrew Wise, piano performing It heitelân, click here.
It Marke Frisian folk song arr. for voice & piano
to listen to Albert Bonnema, tenor & Andrew Wise, piano performing It Marke, click here.