• Julian Philips
  • An Amherst Bestiary (1997)

  • Peters Edition Limited (World)

First performed by Daniel Norman (tenor) & Richard Sisson (piano) at Wigmore Hall, 3 February 1999.

  • highvoc + pf
  • High Voice
  • 25 min

Programme Note

An Amherst Bestiary (1997)
for high voice and piano

The Robin
The Winged Beggar
The Woodpecker
The Owl
The Jay
The Humming Bird
The Cat
The Rat
The Leopard
A Letter
The Bee
The Spider
The Frog
The Caterpillar
The Butterfly
The Snake
Interludes 1 & 2

Completed in March 1997, An Amherst Bestiary is no song-cycle, rather a songbook of eighteen songs that can be dipped into and performed at the performers' discretion. It also includes a prelude and 2 interludes for piano, together with opening and closing songs that can be used freely to break up a song group.

The work sets eighteen Dickinson poems, that describe the animals and birds that inhabit her private world, hidden away in her father's house in Amherst, Massachusetts. The songs fall into three groups: garden birds, 2 cats and a rat and insects & reptiles. Foreword and Afterword are much broader meditations on nature.

These six poems vividly describe the birds that Dickinson observes on her doorstep, from the woodpecker tapping at a worm, to the owl, with his mysterious songs by night. The Winged Beggar and The Humming Bird are the more substantial: the first interprets domestic bird-feeding as an act of transcendental meditation, and the second describes the dizzy spiralling of a bird that flits from blossom to blossom.

Julian Philips, 2023