Love Sonnets of Michelangelo

year: 1982    instrumentation: soprano, mezzo-soprano, voice, and a dancer   
published: Wai-te-ata Music Press
score sample: click

The Love Sonnets of Michelangelo I wrote for Michael Parmenter, with whom I worked on a programme entitled Between Two Fires (also included was a dance-theatre work I created collaboratively with Michael, using his voice as well as his body, with imagery extracted from the diaries of Franz Kafka.) At the time I was focused on different styles of melody, having just completed my Five Melodies for Piano. Inspired by the lovely voices of some of the then current students in our School of Music, I felt that women’s voices gave the expressive quality I wanted, as well as providing a useful ‘cover’ for the overtly homo-erotic tenor of the texts. The original production used film, shot by my good friend Bayley Watson, showed the dancer’s prostrate figure, swathed in bandages. As the performance unfolded the cloth was gradually cut and pealed back by hands belonging to an old man whose face we never saw, the intended metaphor being of the sculptor cutting away marble to reveal the male form that he sensed already existed within the stone.

The work has since had other performances that have discarded the theatrical elements, most successfully when each setting is prefaced by a reading of the poem in translation.

These settings of some of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s most personal sonnets articulate the anguish of love and desire, as well as the despair of old age. The musical style combines the theatricality of Italian bel canto with the direct expressivity of folksong.

Jack Body discusses Love Sonnets of Michelangelo with Jim Svejda, below.

click here for Love Sonnets of Michelangelo at SOUNZ