Barber’s settings of poems from James Joyce’s Chamber Music
, published in 1939 as his Three Songs
Op 10, are sophisticated and developed utterances. In Rain has fallen
the plashing right-hand piano figures, illustrative of the falling rain, are poised above ambiguous, impressionistic harmonies that suggest the act of memory in which the poet is engaged, and they are developed to carry the song’s passionate climax in its stormy piano outburst. Sleep now
is a very unquiet lullaby, with the ‘voice of the winter’ evoked in angular, declamatory piano figures in the central section. The song’s F sharp minor tonality only resolves to a tranquil F major in the final bars. There follows one of Barber’s most impressive achievements in the voice-and-piano medium. I hear an army
is an onomatopoeic tour de force, the superbly imaginative piano part evoking the thunder of horses, the calls of trumpets, and the surge of the sea. It rises to a sustained, anguished outcry at ‘My love, my love, why have you left me alone?’.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007