An art song recital for Valentine's Day, it should be fairly easy to find repertoire to fill out a program. My thought.....what is the greatest love story in the literary world? Why that would be Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Is there a a woman composer who set Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem, How Do I Love Thee? Two women-in-music reference books listed Gena Branscombe's settings of six of the Sonnets from the Portuguese as fine pieces of music. Her setting of How Do I Love Thee? was noted as being one of the best of her era. A small music publisher in Texas had reissued the song cycle, Love in a Life, which included the song I wanted. Who is this woman and why am I now being drawn to her music?
When the music arrived I took it to my accompanist Martin Hennessy. His immediate reaction was, "You must record these songs. And, who is she? She composes beautifully." Thus began my journey.
Several trips to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center provided me with more information. There was a doctoral dissertation written about Miss Branscombe and the author, Dr. Laurine Elkins Marlow, worked with Gena for 18 months before her death gathering all the necessary information. I found that nearly all of Miss Branscombe's original manuscripts and published works were held in the Special Collections Department. There were 150 art songs, instrumental works, piano pieces, chamber music, an oratorio, unfinished opera and choral music. A true treasure trove of music to be explored and reintroduced to people.
Reading through her songs, Martin and I began to choose those we thought would be the best representation of Miss Branscombe's art songs and piano works. We were going to record a CD....something I never thought I would do!