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Three Songs from Anne Sexton (1989)

for mezzo-soprano and piano
duration: 12 minutes


I began reading the poetry of Anne Sexton in the early 1980’s. I found it direct, sometimes confrontational, and frequently very moving. When I was fortunate enough to receive a MacDowell Colony residency in the fall of 1989, I knew that what I most wanted to work on there were songs based on Sexton poems. I ended up writing two song cycles, this one for mezzo-soprano and piano. The three poems are from her collection “ALL MY PRETTY ONES,” published in 1962.

The first, "The Starry Night," is a clear description of the Van Gogh painting, into the middle of which Sexton drops her own suicidal ruminations. The second, "I Remember," is one of the simplest, most moving love poems I’ve ever known. And the final piece, with the great title "Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound," starts out exactly as what its title declares, then takes off on an amazing flight of imagination sparked by the sight of a group of four nuns sitting on the ferry deck.

These songs are dedicated to my sister Marla.


The recordings below were made in October, 1990, by recording engineer Curt Wittig, featuring mezzo-soprano Marianna Busching with me at the piano.

"The Starry Night" [View Score]

"I Remember" [View Score]

"Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound" [View Score Excerpt]