Burgess’s setting from 1951 of Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare is a reflective and sombre piece for solo voice and piano. Composed for Barbara Beck (a singer) the Sonnet examines love in terms of what it is not:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love That alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
The composition was discovered by Barbara’s husband John Beck (1914 – 2014) in his house, along with Burgess’s harmonica. John and Barbara (or ‘Boo’) Beck were neighbours and friends to Lynne and Anthony Burgess in Oxfordshire, when Burgess was teaching English at Banbury Grammar School. The manuscript is now in the collection of the Burgess Foundation and is one of the earliest surviving pieces of music by Anthony Burgess. The premiere of this piece was by Zoe Milton-Brown (soprano) and Benjamin Powell (piano) at the Burgess Foundation in November 2014.
Click the image for the score (opens in a new tab).