Vivian Fine





Four Songs




6½ minutes


Mezzo-soprano and string quartet


16th century anonymous, Robert Herrick, James Joyce


February 5, 1932, League of Composers Concert, French Institute, New York City


New Music, ©1933


Available on demo CD

  1. The Lover in Winter Plaineth For The Spring
  2. Comfort To A Youth That Had Lost His Love
  3. She Weeps Over Rahoon
  4. Tilly

program notes

Composed when Fine was 19, Four Songs was the last of her early avant-garde compositions and the first vocal entry in her catalogue. The work has received considerable critical attention and praise (see below). For a detailed analysis, see Heidi Von Gunden, The Music of Vivian Fine, Scarecrow Press, 1999, pp. 20-22.


“…astonishing, fully mature, intelligent, inspired pieces written by a 20-year-old using melodic and contrapuntal procedures very like those revealed in last Sunday’s all-Fine concert to be her present manner.
     “The text-setting is marvelous. Only Virgil Thomson’s setting of the English language rivals it among 20th century composers. It is natural, perfectly speech-like, yet measured and expressive. The anonymous ‘O Western wind, when wilt thou blow’ has rarely received so simple and direct a musical setting. Robert Herrick’s ‘Comfort to a Youth That Had Lost His Love’ continues the elegiac now ironic mood, and two poems from James Joyce’s ‘Pomes Penyeach’…brought the cycle to a logical, organic close, not omitting exploration of the full mezzo range and many of the resources of the string quartet.”

–Charles Shere, The Oakland Tribune, January 15, 1983


“…we behold the ancient mold shattered to fragments, and song emerging as a purely instrumental form…the rhythms [of “Comfort to a youth that had lost his love”] are vigorous, vital, incisive…The declamation is extraordinarily well-handled. Could anything be more natural in its rhythmical nuance than the setting of the first phrase…. The rhythmic alertness and spontaneity (almost that of spoken words) is one of the outstanding excellences of the composition.”

–William Upton, Musical Quarterly, January 1938


“…[The Joyce setting is] enchanting in its human substance and parallel weaving; luminous, lovely expressive vocal line and counter-voices of the strings.

–Lazare Saminsky, Musical Courier, February 1, 1943


“Engrossing…called to mind a particularly pristine, angst-free distillation of Alban Berg—spare, contrapuntal music that is angular but always singable.”

–Tim Page, The New York Times, September 30, 1986


“The next example nonetheless has my admiration unequivocally: a set of four songs by Vivian Fine for voice and string quartet….The third song, “She Weeps Over Rahoon,” shows a remarkable degree of pitch and timbral control—this in addition to its being a very moving piece of music….Vivian Fine’s work shows how techniques related to serial composition can be applied in a very personal way, yet with consistency and logic. It would be interesting to speculate what might have happened had these and other selections from New Music been given a better chance to attract an audience….What we do have now, at least is the hope that the music in this repertory will begin to be heard again, and that the Americans of the post-Babbitt generation will come to realize that their artistic roots are more native than they may have realized.”

–Steven Gilbert, “The Ultra Modern Idiom, a Survey of New Music” Perspectives in New Music, Fall 1973


“…rich in tone and overtones of meaning”

–Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 1983

audio files

Comfort to a Youth that had lost his Love (complete)

Comfort to a Youth that had lost his Love
Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

What needs complaints,
When she a place
Has with the race
Of saints?

In endless mirth
She thinks not on
What ’s said or done
In Earth.

She sees no tears,
Or any tone
Of thy deep groan
She hears

Nor does she mind
Or think on ‘t now
That ever thou
Wast kind;

But changed above,
She likes not there,
As she did here,
Thy love.

Forbear therefore,
And lull asleep
Thy woes, and weep
No more.