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H. Leslie Adams

Male | Composers

Leslie Adams (b. 1932) is the youngest of the composers featured in this essay. He has written many lovely songs for voice and piano in the forty year

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Leslie Adams (b. 1932) is the youngest of the composers featured in this essay. He has written many lovely songs for voice and piano in the forty years he has been composing professionally. Equally at ease writing for orchestra, chamber ensemble, organ, piano, and chorus, his treatment of art song is particularly praiseworthy. Important cycles include African-American Songs, with six texts by African-American poets, and The Wider View. Adams has set various poems by Cleveland native Joette McDonald. The importance of this collaboration is yet to be determined, but it does represent the most significant settings of her poetry. His stirringly expressive song, "For You There Is No Song" appears in Patterson's anthology. Subsequent to this publication, the song has become popular with young singers. It is listed individually in Villamil's Singer's Guide to the American Art Song. This song is part of a cycle of five poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, entitled Millay Songs. It is particularly recommended.


Millay Songs was written in 1977 and is available from American Composers Alliance. There are two versions, one for high voice, the other for medium voice and piano. There songs are perhaps the finest of Adams' considerable catalog. The beautiful melodies of the voice are firmly supported by a piano accompaniment that is keenly reflective of the text. Millay's texts are, for the most part, melancholic. They express sentiments of the tedium of daily life, lost love, and lost opportunities. The penultimate song, "The Return From Town," is shocking in its contrast to the previous three songs. It, too, speaks of opportunities lost, but does so almost as a matter of jest (the text says, succinctly, "I saw someone fair. I ignored him and went into my own house. There I already have a handsome husband.")


Picturesque is the best word one may use to describe the piano treatment of these songs. Much like the songs of Schumann, the piano intercedes to complete fragments of thoughts where words fail. A fine pianist himself, Adams is very specific with markings. The voice part is written with sensitivity for the expressive powers of a lyric instrument. Decidedly, this composer knows how to maximize effects possible from singers. On high notes, time is given for the blossoming of tone. Lines are written for the voice in such a way as to encourage vowel-to-vowel singing, the framework necessary for true legato. There are some complexities here that will require specific attention if a unified ensemble is to prevail. The level of difficulty for this work is medium to medium high. It is a gratifying piece to perform.

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