As we make the transition from summer to autumn, the work on Art Sung – Edith Sitwell picks up the pace: with the initial script in place, James Symonds, our video magician, is hatching exciting ideas and Roxani Eleni Garefalaki, our director, is already planning stage moves. Songs have been chosen, mainly with texts by Edith Sitwell herself, and, for those places in the programme where the script was crying out for a song to accentuate the drama and nothing fitted the bill, we have commissioned two songs by the young, Darlington-based composer Hayley Jenkins.
I first met her in 2019 when I was invited to perform a concert of new music with baritone Robert Rice at the Late York Festival. (For those of you who have followed the development of Art Sung, Robert was our original leading man, unflinchingly taking on the roles of Klimt, Zemlinsky and Mahler in our first production, Art Sung – Alma Mahler).
Hayley’s setting of the poem, “The Wrong Jacket” was impressive with her clear intuitive feel for the pithy, yet dramatic poem by York poet Carole Bromley. Her clever use of rhythmic passages juxtaposed with light ‘jazzy’ moments revealed a layer of emotional content which could easily have been overlooked.
For Art Sung – Edith Sitwell, Hayley will be setting poetry by American poet, Olivia Diamond. Olivia’s “Sitwell Cycle” explores and imagines Edith’s inner world in a deep and probing manner which fits in perfectly with our ethos of discovering the real ‘Edith’ behind her façade and taps into Hayley’s talent of looking beyond! Also, to discover more about Olivia Diamond and her extraordinary body of work please visit: https://mountainofdreamsbooks.com/olivia-diamond-blog/
As we are talking about composers, let us turn to the composer most closely associated with Edith Sitwell, Sir William Turner Walton. Now considered to be one of England’s most prominent composers of the 20th century, Walton is famous for works such as “Crown Imperial” which has become staple repertoire for any major royal occasion since it was commissioned for the crowning of King George VI in 1937. Other notable works include his cantata, “Belshazzar’s Feast”, his viola concerto, and his many film scores, including ‘The Battle of Britain” (1969) starring Sir Michael Caine, and Lawrence Olivier’s “Henry V” (1944), and, finally and most pertinently, “Façade”.
In 1919, life for the young Oxford music undergraduate W.T. Walton changed dramatically the day he met Sacheverell Sitwell, the youngest of the literary Sitwell trio. Willy, as he came to be known, was invited to stay with Sacheverell and his older brother Osbert for a few weeks in their flat at 2 Carlyle Square in London. He ended up ensconced in their attic flat as their ‘composer in residence’ for the next 15 years! There he met the third of the Sitwell trio, Edith. Not only were their profiles so much alike in character and bone structure that many people thought they were brother and sister, but, through their collaboration on the musical entertainment “Façade”, their names would be linked together for posterity.
Anyone inspired to learn more, there is an interesting clip on Youtube – ‘William Walton remembers the Sitwells and the Roaring Twenties’ https://youtu.be/nyUSk6kW0DA?si=1C6cDT9cJlU9HdY9.
Finally, the ‘Edith’ webpage is up and running on the Art Sung website – http://www.artsung.com/art-sung-edith-sitwell/