Although the original version of these songs dates from 1980, they were never published and alas, rarely performed, because of the insurmountable difficulty of obtaining copyright clearance from the Robert Frost Estate for the setting of his poem ‘To the Thawing Wind’ (the original second song of the cycle). Eventually, after many years of trying, I decided to give up on that issue so that the cycle could be published and performed; as I had written a number of other early songs, using one of those to replace the Frost setting provided a solution.
Although I have used William Blake’s renowned title for his published volume of poems of 1794 as the title for my group of songs, the poems I have set are not by him. My use of the title, however, has a direct link with Blake – the sentiments are similar to his: Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. ‘Innocence’ and ‘Experience’ here have a further meaning in that I wrote the first two songs in 1965 whilst still a student (under Alan Bush at the Royal Academy of Music), while the latter three were added much later. The first two songs are concerned with ‘Innocence’ and the eternal symbols of human love and nature, whilst the last three are concerned with ‘Experience’ and reflect the suffering, cruelty, and injustice which exist in society. The final song at least offers some hope for the individual, a sort of rebirth, paralleling Blake’s visionary view of life: ‘And through your victory I shall win the light’.
The titles of the five songs are: As I pass at dusk (Robert Kent), The day is gone (John Keats), Carol (C Day Lewis), Come live with me (C Day Lewis), and To my brother (Siegfried Sassoon).
….. and Edward Gregson’s superbly written Five Songs of Innocence and Experience – receiving the premiere of its revised version. Afonwy-Jones combined lustrous tone, generous phrasing and a natural ease of communication that demands attention and also further study of Gregson’s music.
David Truslove, Classical Source, August 2017