Sexton Songs is a song cycle by David Conte setting the poetry of Anne Sexton.
The audio selections in the player to the right feature Marnie Breckenridge, soprano, and Ensemble Parallele with Nicole Paiement, conductor. Used with the permission of the composer. To listen, please click on the track name itself.
"The five poems chosen here span Anne Sexton's fifteen-year career. The central two poems, 'Her Kind' and 'Ringing the Bells,' are taken from her book From Bedlam And Part Way Back, published in 1960 and inspired by her stay in a mental institution: they are framed by 'Rowing' and 'Riding the Elevator to the Sky,' two poems from The Awful Rowing Toward God, published in 1973, one year before she committed suicide at the age of 46. 'Us' is from her collection of Love Poems. Through my study of Sexton's poetry and her life, I gradually formed an image of her as a kind of cabaret performer: a microphone in one hand and a cigarette in the other, delivering her funny - and often devastating - jokes. In my musical settings, I have tried to mirror Sexton's vernacular language and popular images with a style that evokes aspects of jazz and cabaret, and mixes sustained aria-type music with recitiative passages. Sexton's poet friend Maxin Kumin wrote about Awful Rowing: 'The Sexton who had so defiantly boasted... "I am God la de dah," had now given way to a ravaged, obsessed poet fighting to put the jigsaw pieces of the puzzle together into a coherence that would save her - into "a whole nation of God."' For me, Anne Sexton's painful journey is ultimately a very brave one. She dredges up her feelings and experiences and challenges us to look at them - and our own.
"The orchestration of Sexton Songs for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble was written for the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble, Nicole Paiement, conductor. The first four songs were premiered with soprano Shawnette Sulker on February 12th, 2006, at Hellman Hall at the San Francisco Conservatory. The complete songs were premiered with soprano Marnie Breckenridge at the San Francisco Conservatory Blueprint Concert Series, October 9th, 2010. Each song is dedicated to a singer-friend of the composer."