fatal interview-4 Millay Songs


four texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Duration: 15:00
Date of Composition: 1970

PROGRAM NOTES: The Four Songs from Fatal Interview by Edna St. Vincent Millay were written in the fall of 1969 on a commission from the American soprano, Alexandra Hunt.  It was a time of great optimism for me and I found that the bleak melancholy of Millay’s sonnets required an artful change of heart to set.  At one point I thought of abandoning them, but the German composer Hans Werner Henze, having heard the set performed at a Manhattan School of Music symposium for composers, paid me the much-appreciated compliment that they demonstrated a fine knowledge of tones and tonality.  Despite this imprimatur I later revised the first song, which is the most complex.  The second is a defiant scherzo; the third is sweetly sad, with a vocal line that repeatedly circles back to a recurrent E-natural.  A bridge, like the tolling of large bells, leads without pause to the last song.  Set syllabically like a chant, the bells continue to chime in the accompaniment, becoming increasingly distant and less resonant.  The mood is of darkest despair. 

         -James Sellars