PROGRAMME NOTES

Four W. H. Auden Songs

Soprano (or Tenor) and Piano (1956)

Peter Dickinson is the British composer, writer and pianist who had a long partnership with his sister, the mezzo Meriel Dickinson. He has written a number of song cycles, many recorded. This set of Four W. H. Auden songs was written when Dickinson was an undergraduate at Queens’ College, Cambridge. On 15 June 1957 a private performance was given for the poet himself who was visiting Cambridge after which he inscribed Dickinson’s copy of his poems: ‘To Peter Dickinson with many thanks for his nice settings and best wishes from Wystan Auden’.


1. Look, stranger, on this island now
An exhilarating seascape where the onlooker is urged to listen to the swaying sound of the sea. There are chalk cliffs, where a gull sits; ships far off in the distance; and summer clouds above.
2. Eyes look into the well
A winter tragedy opening with images of destruction. The victim is a girl who has been raped and murdered by soldiers and left in a stream.
3. Carry her over the water
A facetious comment on conventional marriage, where everything is singing agreeably of love – the white doves and the winds; the fish and a frog; and even the horses drawing the carriage.
4. What’s in your mind, my dove, my coney
A light-hearted attempt to find out what a lover is thinking which develops into a sexual invitation.

The first performance of Four Auden Songs was given by Janet Edmonds and Colin Tilney at the Cambridge University Music Club on 11 May 1957. The first BBC Radio 3 broadcast by Meriel Dickinson and the composer on 21 February 1977: they have recorded the cycle.

© 2008-17 Peter Dickinson

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