two sonnets by Giordano Bruno for soprano and piano

James Erber

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two sonnets by Giordano Bruno for soprano and piano

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Composer James Erber
Year of Composition 2016
Duration ca.9'
Categories (all composers) , ,
Catalogue ID ce-je1p2


The two songs which make up Phoenix are settings of sonnets, both concerned with the subject of love, from “De gli eroici furori” by the 16th century hermetic philosopher Giordano Bruno. In the first, “Unico augel del sol”, the lover compares himself with the mythical Phoenix. He himself burns with transitory earthly love, while the flames which periodically consume the Phoenix (the symbol of divine love) cause him to be reborn to new life. The second sonnet “Ben ch’a tanti martir” is a paean to love, which has caused the poet to suffer unimaginable torments but has also rewarded him with transcendental vision.

Like that of the Tasso setting Tacciono i boschi of 1981 (also for soprano and piano), the music of Phoenix is heavily indebted to the music of the early Baroque, in particular the solo motets which occur throughout Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. In both sonnets, the piano part consists of a two-part invention, which both supports and contrasts with the (more freely composed) vocal line. The end of the second sonnet is a vocalise: the voice (symbolising the voice of the Phoenix) and the two piano lines become one, as earthly and divine love merge.

Phoenix: Two Sonnets by Giordano Bruno was composed in December 2016 for Kirsten Ashley Wiest, and is dedicated to her and Jeffrey Holmes. The world premiere (of which this is a recording) was given by Kirsten Ashley Wiest with Siu Hei Lee (piano) at Conrad Prebys Concert Hall, UCSD on 8th April 2017.