The title of this cycle – How May I Call My Love? – is taken from another of Barnfield’s poems and speaks to the theme of searching so key to the piece.
Setting these poems in my early twenties, I had not long emerged from similar epiphanies, anxieties and obsessions myself. To be reading of another, four hundred years earlier, yearning in such explicit ways to be his lover’s pillow, or fearing revealing himself to the possibly straight object of his affections, spoke so directly to me and my teen self. Though I would come to explore queer love in greater depth in later pieces including my cycles The Man With Night Sweats and We Two along with my opera Stonewall, this was the first time I mustered the courage to express it in my own music.
Selecting five of Barnfield’s twenty sonnets, I was able to fashion a narrative of a young man realising his feelings for another, meditating on this man’s beauty as the intensity of his passion grows, culminating in his ‘coming-out’.
Scoring the piece for high-lying, bel canto tenor, I was able to explore the dynamic and expressive capabilities of the tenor voice at its most virtuosic, as I sought to reflect the nuance, delicacy and vulnerability of Barnfield’s text. The choice of string orchestra enabled me to mirror this delicacy with gossamer-light textures, with quicksilver dramatic outbursts echoing the throbbing passions of the protagonist as the cycle draws to its inexorable climax. – Iain Bell