Very Black Sonnets

ENS.119 | 6.12.10-6.16.10; 11.17.10-9.27.11 | 14′ (Very); 17′ (Black); 44′ (Very Black)
Very Sonnets: Mezzo-Soprano, English Horn, Bb Clarinet, Bassoon, Harp, Viola, Cello, Bass
Black Sonnets: Mezzo-Soprano, F Horn, Tenor Trombone, Tuba, Harp, Viola, Cello Bass
Very Black Sonnets: Mezzo-Soprano, English Horn, Bb Clarinet, Bassoon, F Horn, Tenor Trombone, Tuba, Harp, Viola, Cello Bass

Very Black Sonnets

  1. Overture
  2. Very Sonnets
  3. Interlude
  4. Black Sonnets
  5. Epilogue

Midi Rendition of Overture
Midi Rendition of Mov. 1. The Morning Watch
Midi Rendition of Mov. 2 The Latter Rain
Midi Rendition of Mov. 3 The Dead
Midi Rendition of Mov. 4 Autumn Leaves
Midi Rendition of Interlude
Midi Rendition of Mov. 1 Insomnia & So On
Midi Rendition of Mov. 2 Sifting in the Afternoon
Midi Rendition of Mov. 3 This Gentle Surgery
Midi Rendition of Mov. 4 Drifting at Midday
Midi Rendition of Epilogue

Download PDF of Very Black Sonnets Score

View Sketches

Very Black Sonnets is a composition comprising two independent works—Very Sonnets and Black Sonnets—and three instrumental pieces. Very Sonnets and Black Sonnets may be performed separately, but when played together should include the instrumental movements introducing, dividing, and concluding the complete work.

Very Sonnets and Black Sonnets share identical formal structures, but completely different musical material is utilized in each case. The instrumental pieces use material from both sonnet cycles in carefully circumscribed ways, as well as some of the vocal lines.

Both cycles use similar ensembles dominated by lower-pitched instruments to emphasize the melancholy nature of the texts, with the woodwinds of Very Sonnets being replaced by brass in Black Sonnets. The Overture features the winds alone, the Interlude the strings, and finally in the Epilogue we hear all the instruments together for the first and only time. However, the entire ensemble never performs with the solo mezzo-soprano.

Each part of Very Black Sonnets lasts about fifteen minutes; a complete performance will last approximately forty-five minutes.

Very Sonnets
poems by Jones Very

  1. The Morning Watch
  2. The Latter Rain
  3. The Dead
  4. Autumn Leaves

The excellent mid-nineteenth century poet Jones Very was associated with the Transcendentalist poets he counted among his friends, at least until he started saying he was the second coming of Christ and was eventually institutionalized. Many of his poems came to him in ecstatic vision, though they were strictly Shakespearian in form; no doubt God was as impressed with the man from Stratford as the rest of us. The four sonnets I have chosen to set are however fairly dark rather than ecstatic, and receive a correspondingly tenebrous setting.

Black Sonnets
poems by Malachi Black

  1. Insomnia & So On
  2. Sifting in the Afternoon
  3. This Gentle Surgery
  4. Drifting at Midday

Malachi Black is  young poet whose “work appears widely” according to his brief biography. Other than that I know nothing of him besides one blurry photo on a website, but perhaps that’s as it should be; these extraordinary sonnets need no context. They first appeared in the September and November 2009 editions of Poetry magazine, when he received a prestigious Ruth Lily Poetry Fellowship, and his first book Storm Toward Morning is forthcoming.