Love Songs of James Joyce is a “song cycle” set to poems from Chamber Music (1907), an early poetry collection by the famous Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941). In imitation of the song cycle properly belonging to classical music, as practiced by the likes of Schubert, Schumann, or Mahler, this cycle was created by carefully selecting thirteen otherwise unrelated poems from this collection and combining them so as to form a coherent whole that loosely tells a story, in this case, a story of unrequited love, with original music composed by Donna Greenberg and arranged by pianist/arranger extraordinaire Mark Kieswetter.

The music of this cycle is in the style of jazz but with a Celtic twist and a pinch of classical! And both the melody and arrangement of each song attempt to stay true to the sentiments and imagery of Joyce’s poems, each performed to varying combinations of instruments, which capture the lover’s changing moods.

The songs are performed by some of Canada’s finest musicians: Mark Kieswetter on piano, keys, percussion, and celeste; Jordan O’Connor on bass; Drew Jurecka on violin and clarinet; Melissa Scott on oboe; Kiki Misumi on cello; Tom Skublics on flute and tin whistle; Sharlene Wallace on harp; all supporting the vocals by Donna Greenberg.

The opening song, “Strings in the Earth and Air”, sets the mood and introduces the character of Love itself, whose voluptuousness is shown in the rich accompaniment.

In “The Twilight”, we experience the mystery and joy of the lover’s first glimpse of his beloved.

The whole world seems to be at one, poised for this love affair to begin in “At That Hour”.

With “Lean Out of the Window”, we see the lover himself, dreamy and romantic, contemplating the tale of Rapunzel, he too hoping that the object of his own love will reach out to him.

The full splendor of the beloved is celebrated in “My Love is in a Light Attire”.

The light-hearted “Winds of May” gently mocks the lover’s frustration in being separated from his love.

“My Dove” is an exultation of the many shades of his passion, set to flute, piano, and cello.

“O Cool”, perhaps the closest to traditional jazz in style, evokes the lover’s sensuality through the interplay of the sultry clarinet and the piano supported by bass.

The climax and the fulfillment of their love is portrayed in “In the Dark Pinewood”.

But their relationship starts to crumble in “Dear Heart”, and the lover struggles to make sense of it all. While he laments, we hear, in the background, the knocking of Fate.

In “Rain Has Fallen”, the plaintive oboe expresses the anguish of the heart-broken lover, who tries to revive the affair.

In “Sleep Now”, the insomniac lover struggles in vain to free himself from the bitterness of betrayal. The sullen accompaniment is at odds with the sweetly lulling voice.

In “All Day”, the final song, the sparse accompaniment paints the desolation of the lover, now alone and forgotten.

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