Huit Chansons de Fleurs

Eight Songs for High Voice and Piano

Texts by Emily Dickinson, Ricky Ian Gordon, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Dorothy Parker, Telmo Dos Santos, and William Wordsworth

Published by Theodore Presser Company

Duration: 20 min.

Voices: High Voice

Instrumentation: Solo Piano

Commission: From Tony, with love to his wife, So-Chung. May we all bloom with kindness and cherish each other with love. For life, like a flower, is precious and impermanent.

Premiere: May 13, 2024, Erin Morley (soprano) and Gerald Martin Moore (piano)

Recording: Rose in Bloom (Orchid Classics Catalogue No. ORC100294), released April 19, 2024 by Presto Music

Click on each item to see the full contents:


1. We Should Not Mind So Small a Flower (Emily Dickinson)
2. I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud (William Wordsworth)
3. The Tulips (Ricky Ian Gordon)
4. One Perfect Rose (Dorothy Parker)
5. Peonies at Dusk (Jane Kenyon)
6. Her Garden (Donald Hall)
7. Afterlife with Lilacs (Telmo Dos Santos)
8. Play, Orpheus (Ricky Ian Gordon)


When So-Chung Shinn came to me with the idea of commissioning a song cycle with her spectacular husband Tony Lee, she had in mind something having to do with flowers. Tony had asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and the very quintessence of graciousness, she said she wanted to be behind the creation of a new work. Lucky me, I was the recipient of the commission. So-Chung sent me a little description of all the flowers she loves, but I had to take the idea and create a narrative in my head. It is always a matter of pleasing the commissioner but also, coming up with something you can get behind and hear music for as well. I already knew I wanted to use my Tulips poem which is really about the arc of a relationship as represented through the life span of the Tulips, their incremental disappearance, and, in many ways, the disappointment of their withering, and Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose,” which is wry, bitter, cynical and funny, in a way only Dorothy Parker can so pithily express. I thought of Jane Kenyon’s exquisite “Peonies at Dusk,” because knowing she died so young, at 46, of Leukemia, the poem has such a particular resonance, almost humanizing the Peonies, casting the moon as a sentient being, illustrating so beautifully how connected everything is, alive here, and revolving around these exquisite blossoms. Then, I remembered her husband Donald Hall’s poem “Her Garden,” which he wrote after she died, his grief intermingled with his inability to care for what she had created, to keep alive what so represented her aliveness, because he was so broken, and I felt I already had a story. I found the Wordsworth, because it felt like pure joy to me, but also, if each of the songs has a color in my head, “The Daffodils” is pure yellow and a good place to start. My partner Kevin and I live on a lake, and every year, the first Daffodils, the shock of yellows, the oranges, the blinding whites, after the long snowy winters, sing of the newness that is about to enfold us in its green miraculousness. At first, the cycle ended with the Langston Hughes poem “Cycle,” or “New Flowers,” because it was lovely, and about rebirth, which is obviously optimistic, and apt, but then, my friend Telmo Dos Santos, a wonderful Canadian poet who I met at Banff, sent me his poem “Afterlife With Lilacs,” having no idea what I was working on. I felt I had to add it because it is so dazzling and immediately felt like the missing link. Finally, there were unfortunately, rights issues, namely , we could not, no how, get in touch with the Langston Hughes estate, after so many happy collaborations. After almost a year’s frustration,  I wrote my own text, “Play,Orpheus,” which ended up being fortuitous, because the first time I met So Chung, she entered the room and the most exquisite scent of Lillies of the Valley, Muguet de Bois, filled the room. I went right over to her and rudely put my nose to her neck, for the intoxication of the scent, so “Play, Orpheus” is for So-Chung, to remind us of the precious treasures of this world flowers are and remind us of. Everything and everyone lives and dies,  lives and dies. Death and resurrection.  And of course, this is music, this is song, so the inclusion of the God of music, Orpheus, seems apt. “Huit Chansons des Fleur,” is really about what flowers represent, their radiance, their flickering impermanence, the way they are used to celebrate, as well as to mourn…
and of course, their fragrance. Their fragrance.

Ricky Ian Gordon, July 28th, 2021