REVELS (2011)  op. 114

Opus number: op. 114

Title: Revels, A cycle of ten songs for Baritone Voice and Piano, based on the poetry of Ben Jonson.
Song from the Silent Woman
Opening Doors
On My First Daughter
For a Girl in a Book
Of Life and Death
Living by
The Short Fear
Begging Another

Instrumentation: Baritone and piano

Written for: Philip Lima

Text: Ben Jonson

Texts: click here [move these texts to a separate link]


O, that joy so soon should waste!
Or so sweet a bliss
As a kiss
Might not for ever last!
So sugared, so melting, so soft, so delicious,
The dew that lies on roses,
When the Morn herself discloses,
Is not so precious.
O, rather than I would it smother,
Were I to taste such another,
It should be my wishing
That I might die kissing.

Song from The Silent Woman

Still to be neat, still to be dressed,
As you were going to a feast;
Still to be powdered, still perfumed:
Lady, it is to be presumed,
Though art’s hid causes are not found,
All is not sweet, all is not sound.
Give me a look, give me a face,
That makes simplicity a grace;
Robes loosely flowing, hair as free;
Such sweet neglect more taketh me
Than all th’ adulteries of art:
They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

Opening Doors

He smashed his hand
in opening a door for her,
and less pain than
embarrassment shrieked through him.
Concealing both,
grimacing as if theatrically,
he asked himself
who he thought he was to go
around opening
doors for anyone, much less for her.

On My First Daughter

Here lies, to each her parents’ ruth,
Mary, the daughter of their youth;
Yet all heaven’s gifts being heaven’s due,
It makes the father less to rue.
At six months’ end she parted hence
With safety of her innocence;
Whose soul heaven’s queen, whose name she bears,
In comfort of her mother’s tears,
Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:
Where, while that severed doth remain,
This grave partakes the fleshly birth;
Which cover lightly, gentle earth!

For a Girl in a Book

She, composite of all my loves,
less real than most, more real than all;
of my making, all the good and
some of the bad, yet of yourself;
sole, unique, strong, alone,
whole, independent, one: yet mine
in that you cannot be unfaithful.

Of Life And Death

The ports of death are sins; of life, good deeds:
Through which our merit leads us to our meeds.
How wilful blind is he, then, that would stray,
And hath it in his powers to make his way!
This world death’s region is, the other life’s:
And here it should be one of our first strifes,
So to front death, as men might judge us past it:
For good men but see death, the wicked taste it.


The decorously informative church
Guide to Sex suggested that any urge
could well be controlled by playing tennis:
and the game provided also ‘many
harmless opportunities for healthy
social intercourse between the sexes.’
For weeks the drawings in the Guide misled
me as to what went where, but nonetheless
I booked the public courts and learnt the game
with other curious youths of my age:
and later joined a club, to lose six one,
six love, in the first round of the Open.
But the only girl I ever met had
her ‘energies channelled’ far too bloody
‘healthily,’ and very quickly let me
know that love was merely another means
of saying nil. It was not as though I
became any good at tennis; either.

Living by

Walking, snow falling, it is possible
to focus at various distances
in turn on separate flakes, sharply engage
the attention at several spatial points:
the nearer cold and more uncomfortable,
the farther distanced and almost pleasing.
Living, time passing, it is preferable
to focus the memory in turn upon
the more distant retrospects in order
that the present mind may retain its peace.
Yet knowing that seeing and remembering
Are both, of course, personal illusions.

The Short Fear

My awkward grossness grows: I go down, through
I maintain my self in the conviction
that I have as much to say as others
and more apposite ways of saying it
Certainly I feel it has all been said
The short fear is that even saying it
in my own way is equally pointless

Begging Another

For love’s sake, kiss me once again;
I long, and should not beg in vain,
Here’s none to spy or see;
Why do you doubt or stay?
I’ll taste as lightly as the bee
That doth but touch his flower and flies away.

Once more, and faith I will be gone;
Can he that loves ask less than one?
Nay, you may err in this
And all your bounty wrong;
This could be called but half a kiss,
What we’re but once to do, we should do long.

I will but mend the last, and tell
Where, how it should have relished well;
Join lip to lip, and try
Each suck other’s breath.
And whilst our tongues perplexed lie,
Let who will, think us dead or wish our death.
For love’s sake, kiss me once again.


Date written: 2011

Length: twenty-seven minutes

Premiere performance: September 15, 2011, Phil Lima and Larry Bell, David Friend Recital Hall, Berklee College of Music

Program notes: Revels, a set of ten songs, was written for and dedicated to my friend, baritone Philip Lima, during the summer of 2011. The texts were chosen from the poetry of Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary. Despite the four-hundred-year difference between the1600s and the 2000s, Jonson’s poetry attracted me because of its remarkable relevance to our time. Philip Lima and I gave the first performance of this cycle at the Berklee College of Music on September 15, 2011.


Reviews: (performance)“Revels was inspired by the songs and operas of Richard Strauss, especially the lighter comic moments of Der Rosenkavalier. Each song is tonal with remote modulations via chromatic third relationships, such as Eb major and f# minor. The florid piano writing acts as ironic and sometime reflective commentary on Jonson’s text while the vocal writing is particularly designed for the range, tessitura, and timbre of Philip Lima’s expressive baritone voice.

“There were moments of freshness in the tonal canvas Bell brought to his songs. His revivifying salon harmonies of yesteryear would come unexpectedly, fleetingly. Beneath his conservatism lies a welcome refreshing unpretentiousness.

“Gracefulness in power and a kind of purity marked Lima’s delivery that, in turn, was matched by Bell’s compelling incisiveness and vigor.”      –David Patterson, The Boston Musical Intelligencer