Julien Van Mellaerts 2023

A Poet's Love

27 October 2023, 7:45pm - 9:00pm

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The Music Schumann’s Dichterliebe has been in the canon of great song cycles almost since the day the ink dried on the manuscript. Alongside this monumental work, we hear the world premiere of a new song cycle setting texts from John Donne’s Holy Sonnets by British-American composer Geoffrey Gordon, whose music has been described by The New York Times as ‘darkly seductive’.

The Artists Winner of multiple awards including the Wigmore Hall International Song Competition and the Kathleen Ferrier Prize, baritone Julien Van Mellaerts is one of the most sought-after singers of his generation. Pianist Alisdair Hogarth is a versatile pianist combining a robust technique with a fresh contemporary approach, and has a prominent background in both solo and song-accompaniment.

Notes on the Programme

Programme note - 'At the round earths imagin'd corners'

Acclaimed US / UK composer Geoffrey Gordon's new song cycle At the round earths imagin'd corners sets a selection of texts from the nineteen Holy Sonnets - also known as the Divine Meditations or Divine Sonnets - by the English poet John Donne (1572-1631), first published in 1633, two years after Donne's death. The Holy Sonnets are some of the most powerful and poignant poems written in the English language, believed to have been written in 1609-10, a period of great personal distress and strife for Donne, who suffered a combination of physical, emotional and financial hardships during this time, as well as personal religious turmoil, as Donne converted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism. He would take holy orders in 1615 despite significant self-doubt about becoming a priest. It is said that the sonnets were heavily influenced by Donne's connections to the Jesuits through his uncle Jasper Heywood and from the works of the founder of the Jesuit Order, Ignatius Loyola.

The song cycle takes its title from the opening line of Sonnet VII which appears as the first song. Through the setting of 7 of the 19 sonnets, Gordon expresses musically, with characteristic intensity and dramatic response, the imagery, religious allusions and personal reflections which bring Donne's spiritual journey to life - his fear of death, the inevitability of mortal flesh, and the spiritual struggle between faith and doubt, suffused by themes of self-reflection, repentance, the relationship between God and man, and the quest for salvation and eternal afterlife. The work joins a rich legacy of musical settings of the Donne sonnets by British composers during the 20th-century, notably Benjamin Britten, who set nine of the sonnets in August 1945 as a song cycle for tenor Peter Pears, in addition to settings by Hubert Parry and John Tavener.

This work has been commissioned by Anna Ferro (in memory of her father) and will receive its world premiere performance by internationally renowned baritone Julien van Mellaerts and pianist Alisdair Hogarth, as part of the 2023 Oxford International Song Festival, on 27 October 2023 at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford.

© Geoffrey Gordon (2023)

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13 October 2023 | 11:00am

Art:Song - Images, Words, Music

Festival Passes
Festival Passes Available:
Full Festival Pass
Week 1 Festival Pass (Fri 13th - Sat 21st)
Week 2 Festival Pass (Fri 20th - Sat 28th)

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三礫 ‘Three Pebbles’
27 October 2023, 5:15pm - 6:15pm
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Hello Darkness
27 October 2023, 9:30pm - 10:30pm

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