To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake (1757-1827) I have set selected poems from two collections, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Unlike the written form, in this work the poems are interwoven, but with a different scoring and style so that they can be distinguished - the Songs of Innocence are set for SATB; the Songs of Experience are for two soloists and various choir combinations. The work is divided into three sections, each of which begins with a spoken poem. The first, to be read by a young girl, initiates a set that is overwhelmingly 'innocent'. The second section, to be opened by a young man, contains a group which is evenly divided between 'Innocence' and 'Experience'. The third section, which should begin with a rich, older-sounding male voice, contains mainly poems from Songs of Experience.

 

I have however had a somewhat flexible form of presentation in mind with this work. In its entirety it forms one medium length piece (my preferred option), the spoken texts providing their own divisions and points of rest, the soloists adding contrast at other points. However, within some concert programmes it may lend itself to three items spread within a full programme, the final piece within each section giving some closure to the episodes. For less experienced choirs without access to soloists, the Songs of Innocence can be extracted to stand alone.

 

William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience are from his earlier lyric poems. Etched during the French Revolution of 1789, Songs of Innocence express in their deceptively simple character the hopes and fears of children and their development into adulthood. Songs of Experience (written when England was at war with the French in 1794) via many parallels and contrasts, reflect, deepen, and destroy what is good in 'innocence'. The hopeful vision is darkened, the rebellious and heretical intensified, and naturally this is reflected in the musical setting.

Songs of Innocence and Experience

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    © 2018 Michael Stimpson