The Dinner-Party
Song Cycle for Soprano (or Tenor), Clarinet and Piano (1973, rev. 2009))
by Ron Hannah


Words: Amy Lowell
Duration: about 14 minutes

    Despite this being a work written in my student days, I still consider it among my best. This is in large part due to my discovery of Amy Lowell's poetry. Every composer looks constantly for texts to set,
Performance of Ron Hannah's
The Dinner-Party
Review by Mairi MacLean, Edmonton Journal

.... It was a tricky, shady work, with a dark text .... and dark music to match. [Linda] Perillo did very well in a difficult piece for soprano, filled with edgy intervals and a sense of the desolate and desultory.

-- June 10, 1989

perhaps finding many wonderful works in a given volume of poetry, but few or none that lend themselves to a musical setting. When I found Ms. Lowell for the first time, I could not believe what I was reading. She is my poet, and my hands were shaking as I read: I could set everything she wrote! In fact I have gone a long way toward doing just that over the years. Please visit
this link for a listing of all of my works on her poetry; songs for solo voice and for choir, for voice with chamber ensemble accompaniment, even with orchestral accompaniment.

    Another impetus came from a fellow student and clarinettist (with whom I was somewhat enamored), who promised me a performance if I wrote something for this combination (we had just heard Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock). What more could a composer ask? An exciting poet, Schubert's wonderful example, and an attractive performer...

    The cycle is in 6 parts entitled "Fish", "Game", "Drawing Room", "Coffee", "Talk", and "11 O'clock". Amy was a Boston Lowell, very privileged, and each section offers a scathing commentary on the wealthy society in which the poet found herself, delivered in powerfully evocative images (don't pay too much attention to the "desolate and desultory" comment in the review at right - the songs have rich harmonies, strong rhythms and even a certain humour!). Read about her life and family, which included an astronomer and a president of Harvard University, at this link. The style is freely tonal, quite dissonant in spots, and requires good rhythmic control. It was premiered, as promised, in 1975 as part of my Master's recital at the University of Alberta, and has been performed by several other sopranos since (see below for a recent sample).

Score and clarinet part are available through the Canadian Music Center, or by sending me an email (below). I ask, I beg, people to tell me if they have played this cycle so that I can keep my performances page up-to-date. Back in the days when I naively placed sound files here for listening and download, I watched as many people did so, yet no one has said a word. Please, people, surely SOMEONE has performed it? Let me know!

...and skip my wheezy intro by starting at 2'27"