The Prospect and Bower of Bliss

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Music by Johanna Selleck
Poetry by Aphra Behn and Graeme Ellis

Merlyn Quaife - soprano
Judith Dodsworth - soprano
Arwen Johnston - percussion
Anne Norman - shakuhachi
Caroline Almonte - piano

The Prospect and Bower of Bliss presents two song settings by Australian composer Johanna Selleck of poetry by the English poet and dramatist Aphra Behn (1640-1689) and Melbourne-born poet Graeme Ellis (1944-). Although separated by time and geography, the different styles of Behn’s and Ellis’s poetry are nevertheless linked by the vividness with which they both portray matters closest to the heart and create a sense of immediacy, emotional depth, and connection with nature. These themes are integral to Selleck’s personal compositional style and are reflected in her settings of the poems.

Aphra Behn is recognised as one of the most influential dramatists of the seventeenth century and is also known as the first professional female writer, who was able to make her living entirely from writing. She was considered scandalous in her own time, with no topic off-limits, whether religious, political or sexual. The Prospect and Bower of Bliss explores ideas about love and sexuality in an idyllic pastoral setting.

In contrast, Graeme Ellis’s Seven Tanka borrows from the ancient Japanese art of haiku. Tanka is a related poetic form with 5 lines as compared to 3 lines for haiku and similarly built upon lines of 5 and 7 syllables. Ellis was inspired to compose his Seven Tanka when he heard Merlyn Quaife sing Selleck’s Songs of the Earth and Sky for soprano and percussion. Hence, a circular pattern of influence between poet and composer emerges.

Selleck (1959-) is a composer, flautist and musicologist. Her compositions have been performed by some of the most renowned performers in Australia and internationally, including the performers featured on this CD: Merlyn Quaife and Judith Dodsworth (sopranos), Caroline Almonte (piano), Arwen Johnston (percussion), and Anne Norman (shakuhachi), each of whom excels in both technique and artistry in their interpretations of the music and poetry on this unique CD.


Johanna Selleck: The Prospect and Bower of Bliss (words - Aphra Behn)
Johanna Selleck: Seven Tanka (words - Graeme Ellis)