Four Ben Jonson Songs

Martin Hennessy

About this work:
Four Ben Jonson Songs (two songs of seduction, a hymn and a dirge) won first prize in the 2005 San Francisco Song Festival. World Premier: tenor, Rufus Müller and composer at Miller Theater,Columbia University, NYC October 2001. San Francisco premier with soprano, Marnie Breckenridge in March 2005. Hymn to Diana is an ardent appeal by the god of evening, exhorting the moon to shed her light. I imagined a youthful anthropomorphic god, musing in a wooded landscape, as dusk descends. The full moon just begins to pour its silver light over the horizon. Come, my Celia is the first part of the famous seduction of Celia by the fox in Jonson’s play Volpone (1606). The lines are adapted from the Roman lyricist, Catullus. The transformations of the setting are attuned to Volpone’s character. Just as the fox affects a gentleman’s decorum to mask its bestial urges, so the singer must juggle the shifts between madrigalian sections and then bawdier outbreaks of cabaret. The process of setting Echo’s Song gained ever in meaning as the poem was chosen and musicalized during the week after the World Trade Center attack, eventually, resulting in its dedication: for those who mourn. Later in 1616 Jonson fashioned his Catullan borrowings into two separate poems in The Forest. In Kiss me, sweet the fox’s seduction takes up where it left off in Come, my Celia. This time the erotic carpe diem is proposed in an urgent arithmetic of love. Although, admittedly, these songs were written with the sound of an English tenor in mind, Hymn to Diana and Echo’s Song work very well on their own for soprano. Furthermore, considering the trans-gendered nature of Elizabethan theater (Celia was most likely played by a young boy) and the liberation of gender type in current culture: what is to stop the adventurous soprano from inhabiting Jonson’s foxy seducer in Come, my Celia and Kiss me, sweet ? Published by Maisie Light Publishing. Available through Glendower Jones at Classical Vocal Reprints
Version: high voice and piano
Year composed: 2001
Duration: 00:14:04
Ensemble type: Voice, Solo or With Chamber or Jazz Ensemble:Solo Voice with Keyboard
Instrumentation: 1 Piano, 1 High Voice
Instrumentation notes:

Martin Hennessy's profile »