West Wind

Song Collection

West Wind is a song cycle composed by David Leisner for tenor and guitar.

"Mary Oliver poems about love amidst nature. Written for tenor William Ferguson. Six songs, in a melding of diatonic and chromatic styles, sometimes playful, sometimes darkly intense, sometimes mystical, sometimes meditative. Guitar part of medium difficulty."


The audio selections feature William Ferguson, tenor, and David Leisner, guitar. The recordings are from the live premiere performance in New York, 2012. Used with the permission of the composer.

Date: 2011Composer: David LeisnerText: Mary Oliver

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“Mary Oliver has been one of my favorite poets for a long time. I was grateful to finally have the occasion to set some of her work to music. West Wind is dedicated to my friend, the splendid tenor William Ferguson, and was written in 2011.

“In the past some of my music has been diatonic and some chromatic. In more recent years, the two harmonic approaches have merged in my work, mixing in a way that might have felt confused before, but feels perfectly natural to me now. These songs are written in this language.

“Another personal departure is the fact that most of the 6 songs in this cycle were created not out of a melodic line or idea, but out of the structure constructed in the accompanying guitar part. The first song, for instance, came out of an interval of a minor third, followed by an interval augmented by a half-step, and another and another. Then I laid out all the pitches in ascending order to make an exotic octatonic scale with whole steps and half steps in unusual places. The voice takes the scalar passage, while the guitar plays with the intervallic augmentations, and then sometimes they switch. The second song uses a simple arpeggiated accompaniment for the guitar, alternating between repetitions of 4, 3 and 5 throughout. Every time the chord changes, it changes by only one note at a time. This creates a kind of harmony that I am often drawn to, one that is neither functional harmony nor atonal, but rather a harmony with gravitational attractions. Similar structural conceits guide the other songs, including the last one, which has a circular rhythmic development of a four-bar accompaniment figure in eighth-notes that leads to triplet-eighths, then to sixteenths, then to sextuplet-sixteenths, and then returns in reverse order back to eighths. Each of these forms emerged in some way from the content of the poems.”

–David Leisner




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