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Ian Venables

Publisher: Novello & Co

Venetian Songs (aka Love's Voice) (1995), 22
Work Notes
(also known as 'Love's Voice')
Text Writer
John Addington Symonds
Novello & Co Ltd
Solo Voices and 1-6 players
Year Composed
16 Minutes
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Programme Note
Ian Venables Venetian Songs (aka Love's Voice) (1995), 22
i. Fortunate Isles
ii. The Passing Stranger
iii. The Invitation to the Gondola
iv. Love's Voice

The first complete performance of these songs was given in March 1995 at Clifton Hill House, University of Bristol, by Kevin McLean Mair (tenor) and Graham Lloyd (piano). The song Love’s Voice was commissioned by Andrew Milner and premiered by Ian Partridge (tenor) and Jennifer Partridge (piano) on 22 August 1994 at the Three Choirs Festival, Gloucester. The four songs are setings of poetry by John Addington Symonds.

This work has been recorded by Nathan Vale and Paul Plummer on SOMM CD 063

Fortunate Isles

There are islands, there are islands
On the ocean's heaving breast
Where the honey-scented silence
Broods above the halcyon's nest;
Where the sands are smooth and golden,
And the flowers bloom, one by one,
Unbeloved and unbeholden
Save by the all-seeing sun.
I shall ne'er with friend or lover
Wander on from glade to glade
Through those forests, or discover
Silvery fountains in the shade:
But another's foot shall linger
Mid the bowers whereof I dream,
And perchance a careless finger
Strew the roses on the stream;
Happier men shall pluck the laurel
For the tresses that they love,
And the passionate pale coral
Wreathe round brows I know not of.

The Passing Stranger

Of all the mysteries wherethrough we move,
is the most mysterious - that a face,
Seen peradventure in some distant place,
Whither we can return no more to prove
The world old sanctities of human love,
Shall haunt our waking thoughts, and gathering grace
Incorporate itself with every phase
Whereby the soul aspires to God above.
Thus are we wedded through that face to her
Or him who bears it; nay, one fleeting glance,
Fraught with a tale too deep for utterance,
Even as a pebble cast into the sea,
Will on the deep waves of our spirit stir
Ripples that run through all eternity.

The Invitation to the Gondola

Come forth; for Night is falling,
The moon hangs round and red
On the verge of the violet waters,
Fronting the daylight dead.
Come forth; the liquid spaces
Of sea and sky are one,
Where outspread angel flame- wings
Brood o'er the buried sun.
Bells call to bells from the islands,
And far-off mountains rear
Their shadowy crests in the crystal
Of cloudless atmosphere.

A breeze from the sea is wafted;
Lamp-litten Venice gleams
With her towers and domes uplifted
Like a city seen in dreams.
Her waterways are a tremble
With melody far and wide,
Borne from the phantom galleys
That o'er the darkness glide.
There are stars in the heaven, and starry
Are the wandering lights below;
Come forth! for the Night is calling,
Sea, city, and sky are aglow!

Love's Voice

Love, felt from afar, long sought, scarce found,
On thee I call;
Here where with silvery silent sound,
The smooth oars fall;
Here where the glimmering water-ways,
Above yon stair,
Mirror one trembling lamp that plays
In twilight air!
What sights, what sounds, O poignant Love
Ere thou wert flown,
Quivered these darksome waves above,
In darkness known!
I dare not dream thereof; the sting
Of those dead eyes
Is too acute and close a thing
For one who dies.
Only I feel through glare and gloom,
Where yon lamp falls,
Dim spectres hurrying to their doom,
And love's voice calls:
Twas better thus toward death to glide,
Soul-full of bliss
Than with long life unsatisfied
Life's crown to miss.

John Addington Symonds

  • Soloist(s)
    Nathan Vale (tenor), Paul Plummer (piano)
    SOMM Recordings:
  • Soloist(s)
    Andrew Kennedy, tenor; Richard Hosford, clarinet; Iain Burnside, piano
The Venetian Songs by Ian Venables inhabit a darker sound world, still distinctly part of the English tradition but idiosyncratic and fresh in matching the poems’ blend of melancholy and delight. The most direct model may be Gerald Finzi, whose close association with the poetry of Thomas Hardy is likened by Venables to his own identification with John Addington Symonds in these songs, and whose Ode on the rejection of St Cecilia I hear invoked in the first of this set, The Passing Stranger. But other Venice-inspired works, Britten’s Death in Venice above all, seem to loom behind this music. Shadows fall on Venables’ Venice. The gondola ride on the violet waterways of the second song is at once wondrous and tormented, the harmony in turns translucent and obscured, familiar tonal language skewed. Once a musical fragment is established, Venables will not let go, repeating it in different guises until the mesmerised listener cannot tell dream from nightmare. This beautifully presented song set has certainly won Venables a fan in this reviewer. I am left wondering how I could have missed his touching, eloquent music before.
Armin Zanner, Music Teacher,01/11/2006
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