John Bevan-Baker: Songs of Courtship, and other works

Songs of Courtship and other works, Consort of Voices/Hebrides Ensemble Linn, CKD 286

SONGS OF COURTSHIP (1992) For four part choir and pianoforte duet: Songs of Courtship were set to music by Bevan Baker in 1992. The poems, written by Mao Shih in the 7th century BC, were translated from the Ancient Chinese in 1946 by Arthur Waley. The composer loved them and maintained that they had "a simple directness which could have been written yesterday". He wrote them as a contrasting, companion piece to the Brahms Lieberslieder Waltzern. The courtship songs, richly imaginative, vary greatly in metre and in their treatment of the enigmatic oriental lyrics, some being lightfooted, some more robust, always rhythmically challenging. The "Wedding Song" is a triumphant, rejoicing finale. The Consort first performed Songs of Courtship at a memorial concert for the composer at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, in 1995.


Some composers blaze trails', Bevan Baker said of himself; 'others go along behind clearing the path and trying to encourage that direction - I am one of those composers.' Listening to Songs of Courtship you may think Bevan Baker over modest as he spins a kind of musical gold in these short settings of poems written in the seventh century BC by Mao Shih and translated by the great Chinese scholar Arthur Waley. The writing for piano is fluent in If along the highroad, while the distantly oriental chords that open A moon rising are evocative in themselves and a surefooted prelude to the entry of the voices. Throughout, the word setting is scrupulous, with the music resisting the temptation to illustrate the text. If there are hints of Ravel here then the influence is entirely benign. Bartok, too, seems to be there in the driving rhythms of the final number Wedding Song. The Consort of Voices do these musical miniatures proud. International Record Review

RORATE COELI DESUPER (1988) - SATB, strings, organ, trumpet & tubular bells :This is a setting of the poem by the 15th century Scottish poet William Dunbar, which Bevan Baker wrote in memory of his mother. The piece opens with a Latin chant taken up by 'cello and bass; the cantata builds to a climax of vocal and instrumental power. Sudden changes of tempi and rhythm, flourishes on the organ and trumpet, slashing string chords and peals of tubular bells, along with demanding vocal leaps match the colourful text of Dunbar. It has none of the modern (German or Dickensian) attributes of Christmas; it breathes rather the intoxication of universal spring, and summons all nature to salute "the cleir sone quhome no clud devouris". It is strongly reminiscent of the composer's feelings for all of creation.