The Man with the Golden Key

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12 Almost Too Serious Songs for Baritone Voice and Piano

This song cycle for baritone (or tenor) voice and piano is part of Childhood and Memory, a multi-media project that seeks to celebrate memory, childhood and the legacy of the composer Robert Schumann.

The starting point for this project came from the second chapter of G.K.Chesterton’s Autobiography. This chapter titled The Man with the Golden Key is a kind of secular sermon on memory taking as its ‘text’ the author’s first childhood memory recounting a scene from his father’s toy theatre. In making a precis of this chapter a sequence of 12 paragraphs evolved each with a title from within the text itself. This formed the background structure of  The White Light of Wonder: Scenes from Childhood for solo piano completed in November 2005.

At an early stage of composing The White Light of Wonder a decision was taken to commission illustrations and poems to provide visual and textual commentary for each of the piano pieces. An artist and a poet were asked to reflect on Chesterton’s text and provide responses to it from their own childhood memories. In discussions with the poet Margaret Morgan it was agreed that her poems might also be brought together as a song cycle somewhat in the spirit of Robert Schumann’s settings of Eichendorff and Heine, particularly Liederkreis, Op.24 and Dichterliebe, Op 48 respectively.

The Man with the Golden Key sets the 12 poems commissioned for The White Light of Wonder. Whereas the latter work seeks to speak to young and old in the simplicity of its piano writing, The Man with the Golden Key is definitely for grown-up listeners and performers.

Clearly, there are a few gender mismatches in Margaret’s Morgan’s original poems which have been gently altered. However, these recollections of her childhood and early adult life are felt to have a universality that transcends gender and composer and poet feel confident in their presentation by a male voice.

For those who wish to explore the world of G.K.Chesterton further Martin Ward’s extraordinary website contains a cornucopia of Chesterton material, not least electronic versions of almost everything he published, and he published a lot.

The Man with the Golden Key was written for two distinguished musicians who throughout their careers have consistently promoted and celebrated the English Art Song tradition. The baritone Peter Savidge was the first singer to introduce to the composer the world of Gerard Finzi, George Butterworth and Vaughan-Williams. His frequent recital partner David Owen Norris, well-known for his championing of Elgar’s ‘lost’ piano concerto, embraces such an invigorating and inspirational approach to the keyboard repertoire in general which, it is hoped, the piano part of this song sequence reflects.


Study score for baritone voice and piano [pdf]

Study score for tenor voice and piano [pdf]

Study score for soprano voice and piano [pdf]