Spoken to a Bronze Head Jeremy Dale Roberts
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mezzo soprano and piano
In all the long years that I knew her – and it was a matter of regret between us – I never set a word of Ursula’s poetry. It was only after her death, when I was asked to contribute a setting of one of her poems to a celebratory concert held at the Royal College of Music that I that I ‘jumped’: I knew immediately which one I wanted to do – lines ‘Spoken to a Bronze Head’. This was the portrait bust of RVW made by David McFall: not the Jacob Epstein which neither of them liked very much. It stood always in her sitting room, a benign presence, a ‘virtual’ companion in her long widowhood.
My setting is in an ‘arioso’ style, quite simple and austere – maybe to match the rather ‘Augustan’ style of the verse. It is of course a memorial, also a salute: and I wanted to enshrine in it the two of them, Ralph and Ursula. So at the heart of it is a clangourous, bronze-like chord, lifted from the last movement of VW’s 6th Symphony, from which I quote a passage just before the conclusion.
Jeremy Dale Roberts, 2015
In ‘Spoken to a Bronze Head’ Dale Roberts draws out, with reflective austerity and structural economy, the power of Ursula’s imagery. In the notes of his song’s first performance, he points to his personal recollections of the bronzes that are linked with the poem: first, Jacob Epstein’s portrait bust of RVW (1946); second, the David McFall head (1956) that was commissioned by Ursula and positioned in her drawing rooms at Hanover Terrace and Gloucester Crescent. Dale Roberts’s stylish, sensitive approach to the text here owes much to his direct connections with certain key British musical figures of the past, which include not only RVW, but also Gerald Finzi, William Alwyn and Priaux Rainier.
Lee Tsang, 2010