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“Porphyria’s Lover” – Notes on Shannon Graham’s piece for “Love, Loneliness, and the Spaces Between”



I’m not sure why Valentine’s Day inspired me to compose a setting of a poem that involves a murder (a murder out of “love” albeit, but a murder no less). Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” is a dramatic monologue written in 1836 in which a poor guy in love reveals himself to be a psychopath.


Porphyria enters the speaker’s apartment on a stormy evening, and brings with her warmth, love, and happiness. (Cue music: atonal stormy dense stuff alternating with warm happy swing.)  I will now refer to “the speaker” by an arbitrary name to make this blog entry less technical sounding and more fanciful. In keeping with the literary theme, let’s call him Heathcliff. Now, Heathcliff laments about how there are societal pressures that will soon prevent his relationship with Porphyria from continuing.


Heathcliff leaves this vague, but it could mean that she is married, or of a higher social class. (Cue music: stark and reflective recitative, music briefly takes darker turn.) However, she has come through the storm to be with him to tonight, and for that he is very pleased. (Cue music: Romantic ballad with some sexy major 9th chords…you can feel the love.) After reflecting upon their love, Heathcliff makes an ominous statement, “while I debated what to do. . .” (Cue music: instantly dark and suspenseful.)


Heathcliff knows that in this moment she belongs completely to him and that he will do something that will allow them to be together forever! (Cue music: romantic, truly the most romantic murder ever.) What Heathcliff does next, proves how psychotic and delusional he really is. But. . .  I don’t want to spoil it for you, so come to the concert!


- Shannon Graham

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