RTC-74: 1995 Four Last Songs for voice, violin and piano

Text: Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917)

1. “A Twilight in Middle March”
2. “God’s Remembrance”
3. “Soliloquy”
4. “June”

Commission: Groundswell (Winnipeg)

Length: 16 min.

Completion: March – June 1995, Winnipeg

Premiere: 1995-10-15, Karen Jensen, mezzo-soprano, Gwen Hoebig, violin, David Moroz, piano

Other: 2005-11-21, Rosemarie Vanderhooft, mezzo-soprano, Gwen Hoebig, violin, David Moroz, piano

Publication: CMC

Recording: CBC Winnipeg Live Recording

Robert Turner writes:

“Commissioned by GROUNDSWELL with a grant from the Manitoba Arts Council, Four “Last Songs” is a song cycle for voice, violin and piano, setting poems by the early 20th century Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917).

Francis Ledwidge was born in County Meath, Ireland, in 1887. He worked as a labourer and clerk, and wrote poems from an early age. He came under the mentorship of Lord Dunsay, who encouraged the publication of his work. Enlisting in the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1914, Ledwidge served in Europe and the Middle East and was killed in action at Ypres in 1917.

Two volumes of poems were published in his lifetime; he wrote little of the war and most of his best work consists of nature poetry and poems extolling Irish nationalists leaders. He has been called a lesser Yeats, but his similar “mixed language” stemmed partly from Yeats and in turn influenced the early work of Heaney, Kavanaugh and other others. The Irish poet and novelist, James Stephens, wrote of him: ‘His promise is, I think, greater than that of any young poet now living.’ A posthumous collection of Ledwidge’s poems was published in 1918 under the title “Last Songs,” and his Collected Poems were brought out in London in 1919.

The work was written between March and June 1995, and while they may or may not be the composer’s last songs, the title was not borrowed from Richard Strauss (Four Last Songs, 1948) but from the posthumous collection of Ledwidge’s poems. Four “Last Songs” is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s uncle, L/Sgt/ Comrie S. Snowdon (1883-1916), also killed in action during World War I.