(To Winter - Infant Joy - Mad Song): first performance: M.Capelle and Champ d'Action, cond.: A. Franco; 18.03.93.
Commissioned by Les Jeunes Amis de l'opéra, written with support from the Communauté Française de Belgique (Direction Générale de la Culture, Service de la Musique)
(Whole cycle with 6 poems): first performance: C. Fuggiss and Ensemble Modern, cond.: P. Rundel, 23.03.94, Festival Ars Musica.
Award: I. Fuérison Price of Royal Academy of Belgium (Fine Arts section).
[1. To Winter - 2. Nurse's Song I - 3. Infant Joy - 4. Infant Sorrow - 5. Nurse's Song II - 6. Mad Song]
The cycle of six Blake Songs is one of the first important creative documents of a composer under thirty years old who was vigorously building up a youthful reputation. Of ample dimension (25 minutes) it associates a soprano voice with an ensemble of thirteen instrumentalists: woodwind, brass, keyboards and percussion (two of each) and string quintet. The work's overall architecture is highly determinate, and this also concerns the choice of poetic textes. The first and the last pieces, the most elaborate (and the only ones to require all the instruments) feature poems from William Blake's youthful Poetical Sketches (1769-1778). Shorter and lighter instrumentally, the texts of the central pieces come from respectively the Songs of Innocence of 1789 (n° 2 and 3) and the Songs of Experience of 1794 (n° 4 and 5). The visionary genius of the English poet-painter continually fluctuates between the fringes of madness and the nostalgia of lost innocence. After the evocation of the rigours of an impressively harsh winter (To Winter) that nonetheless ends - in extremis - with a break in clouds, come two images of idyllic childhood, of total innocence even, that of the new-born (n° 3). The two following poems, however, already show the child as being subject to the agression of the outside world, against which its parents can only offer an uncertain refuge. The contrast between the two Nurse's Songe (n° 2 and 5) is typical, even though they are related by their texts: in the second, the periode of grace has lapsed, winter and night loom on the horizon, and it is the dramatic Mad Song that concludes the cycle, forming a symmetry with the first song. Exposed to the perils of the night storm, the poet turns his back on the Orient as a source of illumination, its blinding light now source of the 'frenetic pain' in his clouded mind.