Dark Lady: Four Shakespeare Sonnets (2014)

Dark Lady is a song cycle based on four sonnets from William Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” sequence: Nos. 130, 151, 141, and 127. In this sequence, the persona expresses a deep, sexual love for a dark-skinned whose features are not commonly regarded as beautiful; hence, the poems stand in contrast to Shakespeare’s earlier, more well-known sonnets, which expresses a more youthful, spiritual love. While the sonnets in this cycle do not form together a cohesive textual narrative, I have arranged them to fit a musical narrative of my own making that progresses through various emotional states.

Although I have conceived the cycle as one long piece rather than four separate movements, I have used the instrumentation as a means to demarcate the individual sonnets. The outer songs, Sonnets 130 and 127, make use of the entire trio of voice, violin, and piano; these texts address the reader, both extolling and deriding the qualities of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. The two inner songs, Sonnets 151 and 141, are duets (one between voice and violin, the other between voice and piano); they are more personal in tone, each one addressed directly to the Dark Lady.

The cycle, as a whole, also represents my first attempt at integrating elements of classical-tradition art song with popular and musical theater sensibilities. I have written the piece in commemoration of Shakespeare’s 450th birth anniversary in the year 2014.

Instrumentation: violin, male voice, piano

Duration: 16 minutes

Premiere: May 2, 2014, Conservatory Concert Hall, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Singapore • Adam de Wilde, tenor; Adam Wu, violin; Joshua Cerdenia, piano