Four Songs, Volume I
For high voice and piano
1. i thank You God (e. e. cummings)
2. I'll Love You (W. H. Auden)
3. In the Stillness (Martin Hennessy)
4. Mother to Son (Langston Hughes)
My songs have always sprung from relationships in their creation as well as in their performance.
I encountered the first stanza to i thank You God in a meditation book and wrote it down on a postcard to Heidi Skok when I was on tour in the summer of 1994. Unbeknownst to me, she took a liking to it and kept it in her pocketbook. In September she called me in New York and related a bizarre near-death experience in Venice that summer. When she regained consciousness, the first thing she thought was to find the postcard and read the poem. I quickly searched my library for a volume of Cummings to see what the remaining stanza might be. Over the telephone I read to her: "I who have died am alive again today."
Heidi sang a benefit for Hearts and Voices, an organization that provided entertainment to AIDS wards around the city. I couldn't play for her that evening so Levering Rothfuss did. She came to my studio the next day with the program that revealed a variety of therapeutic texts, including I’ll Love You by Auden. I was uplifted by its colorful testimony of unconditional love and promptly set it for her. Levering would die of AIDS a few years later. I would eventually find the courage to say: "I am HIV positive."
Deep inside us in the aquifers of the soul run the waters of truth. I sought healing at a center for alternative therapy in London and met a man there who became a mentor and lover. In the Stillness poured forth when I returned to the United States. It is a mystical love ballad evoking the union of two people on that innermost terrain: the soul.
I began presenting my compositions at the Lesbian and Gay Center on West 13th and the Greenwich Music House in concerts sponsored by Positive Music. Another core member of the group, flutist, Don Hulbert, asked me to consider writing a flute sonata with a quasi-torch song as its second movement, suggesting this Langston Hughes poem, Mother To Son, that imparted a special sense of confidence to him when he was a gay teenager. Don commissioned me to write the sonata in 1996 and it was premiered at the National Flute Association's AIDS Memorial concert in New York in August of that year. With great style Don put down his flute and sang the second movement.
These four songs can be found on the Newport Classic compact disc, Women's Voices (NPD85613) pairing Ned Rorem's cycle Women's Voices with Seven Songs of Martin Hennessy.
"Songs of Martin Hennessy, the disc’s insightful pianist…overflow with poignant and dramatic splendor." — Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Hennessy handles Rorem’s difficult piano writing with brilliance and also writes creative, improvisatory, and moving songs.” — American Record Guide
“In the Stillness, a love lyric to Hennessy’s own verse, is particularly attractive.”
— Patrick J. Smith, Opera News
You can hear excerpts from the recording below plus a live performance of i thank You God with Heidi and me at a Dancers Responding to AIDS fundraiser at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery circa 1997.
i thank You God
I'll Love You
Mother to Son
In the Stillness