Wadsworth's "The Bad Child's Book of Beasts"


performed at Staunton Music Festival

August 17, 2014

Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA


Sara Couden, contralto

Zachary Wadsworth, piano


video by Stewart Searle





About the Music

Staunton Music Festival audiences have been fortunate to enjoy several world premieres in recent years by Zachary Wadsworth, a young American composer who first appeared in Staunton in 2011. And while he works in many different genres, Wadsworth seems to have an innate ability to select engaging poetry and set it to evocative music. Upon commission, he has written four new songs based on the “silly little poems” (his words) by poet Hilaire Belloc. (Listeners may recall Wadsworth’s 2013 Cautionary Tales for Children also based on Belloc.) Essentially, these are short, funny songs with a slight ironic undertone about our destructive relationship with nature. “The Whale,” a politically-incorrect little number, ponders the practical uses for a slain whale. “The Hippopotamus,” similarly brutish, discusses the best practices for hunting these now-threatened species. After all this violence, we ponder the consequences of our actions in “The Dodo,” a quiet meditation on extinction. Finally, we realize who the real animals are in “The Marmozet.”



Sara Couden, contralto, is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Program, as well as the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the San Francisco Conservatory. Recent highlights include: the role of Albine in the Metropolitan Opera production of Thaïs, excerpts from Zauberflöte with the LA Philharmonic, Mahler 2 with the Santa Cruz Symphony, Das Lied von der Erde with New York chamber ensemble Cantata Profana, Petr Eben’s Loveless Songs with Kim Kashkashian at Marlboro Music Festival, From Jewish Folk Poetry and the Canary Cantata with Music @ Menlo, and B Minor Mass with Masaaki Suzuki at Yale’s Woolsey Hall. 



Zachary Wadsworth is a composer of “fresh, deeply felt and strikingly original” music (Washington Post), with regular performances and premieres around the world. Previously he has held a residency at the Metropolitan Opera, and his music has been performed at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. Other honors include awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, ASCAP, and the American Composers Forum. Wadsworth’s music is published by Novello and Schirmer, and his work has been heard on NPR and the BBC. Wadsworth earned degrees from Eastman, Yale, and Cornell, and he is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at Williams College in Massachusetts.





Related Content


POSTCARD: Zachary Wadsworth at Home in New York

While teaching at Williams College in western Massachusetts, Zachary Wadsworth sends a short postcard from his home in Troy, NY. A familiar face at SMF concerts since his debut in 2011, Zach talks about his rewarding experiences teaching and living near Williams College.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's Four Laws for Two Percussionists (premiere)

“What are the laws that govern music?” With this question, composer-in-residence Zachary Wadsworth began the process that led to Four Laws for Two Percussionists, given its world premiere performance in this 2015 video.  Performed by I-Jen Fang and Brian Smith.  




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's The Doctor (premiere)

Inspired by the theatrical setting of Blackfriars Playhouse, Wadsworth composed The Doctor for two principal voices and instrumental trio. A modern-day medical farce, The Doctor was an audience favorite at its premiere captured in this video.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's arrangement of "If I Only Had a Brain" by Harold Arlen

One of the most successful aspects of Zach's style is his ability to refresh well-known material for new audiences, a feature that comes to the fore in his many song arrangements. For a Hollywood-themed program in 2017 he created a lovely version of Arlen's classic from The Wizard of Oz. 



VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's Letters Home for oboe and electronics (premiere)

Wadsworth has also explored composition involving electronics, as in this new work for solo oboe and tape. The texts draw upon letters written by American poet Alan Seeger during The First World War, and the solo oboe is performed by Roger Roe. 




PERSPECTIVE: Inside the Composer's Studio: Zachary Wadsworth 

Zachary Wadsworth first appeared at Staunton Music Festival as an "Emerging Composer" in 2011.  Since then he has written over a dozen commissioned works for the festival and has appeared as pianist and tenor each season.  Wadsworth brings originality and true poetry to all that he creates.