Happiness is an orchestral song cycle commissioned by the Melos Sinfonia for premiere on the 19th October 2018 at LSO St. Luke's with conductor Oliver Zeffman and soprano Lauren Fagan. The song cycle is dedicated to Oliver Knussen, and was the last piece I worked on with him.

Happiness - A song cycle
dedicated to Olly Knussen

I. You envied the stars their height

The day folded;
Like a Cabbage White closing its wings
On a windowsill.

With the old, worn-out risk,
the unexplainable, skewed
trigonometry
of drunkenness

you climbed the fire escape.

Got on the roof.
But once you were there, you
envied the stars

their height

and could not get back down.

- A K Blakemore

2015, Humbert Summer, with kind permission of the poet

II.Still Light

You picture your mother like a tree
– somehow that makes it easier.
A silver birch, undressing
unhurriedly, as though days were years,
while a fine rain plays
like jazz in her hair. She drops
her fine, white leaves
one by one. Her branches
are almost bare now. See,
how beautiful she is against the darkening sky.

- Shazea Quraishi

2015, The Art of Scratching, with kind permission of Bloodaxe Books

III. Happiness

Yesterday it appeared to me in the form of two purple
elastic bands round a bunch of asparagus, which was
a very small happiness, a garden variety, nothing like
the hulking conversation cross-legged on a bed we had
ten years ago, or when I saw it as a thin space in a mouth
that was open slightly listening to a friend pinning them
with an almost-cruel accuracy; the sense of being known
making a space in their mouth that was happiness.
There was the happiness of my mother as we sat on
a London bus, her having travelled alone to visit her son,
and she seemed more present which might have been
the luggage I was carrying for her that weighed heavy
as her happiness, or was her happiness. It is rare you see
a happiness so nut-like as that which we permit my
father to pass around when he is talking sentimentally
embarrassing us all. And of course, the goofy ten gallon
hats of happiness that children plant on us overtime
they impersonate knowledge. Or when I am standing on
a step breathing it in and out, staying death and the deadness
that comes after dying, sighing like a song about it. Or
privately with you, when we’re watching television and
everyone else can be depressed as rotten logs for all we care,
because various and degrees as it is, we know happiness
because it is not always usual, and does not wait to leave.

- Jack Underwood

2015, Happiness, with kind permission of Faber & Faber

IV. An Avoidance

I could go around all evening dropping slices of lime
into other peoples’ drinks, because it’s easy to give
away fractions of happiness. But bad news ticks
in the kettle as it rests, and someone’s dressed
as Death in the Halloween party photo, and
someone’s dressed as Death in the birthday
party photo, class photo, front row, by the font
at the Christening?.?.?.? I should’ve called.
I should’ve called right away, welcomed your
sadness, taken it, pulled up a white plastic patio
chair, and said I know you don’t want to be here
either. Instead I let a week pass. It was so easy.

- Jack Underwood

2015, Happiness, with kind permission of Faber & Faber

V. Ease
(Or ‘a poem about how things are now’)

Lined coat, warm cap, felt slippers,
In the little tower, at the low window, sitting over the sunken stove.
Body at ease, heart at peace; nothing to wake early for
Do the courtiers in the Western Capital know of these things, or not?

- Bai Juyi trans. George X. Fu

Original circa 844, trans. 2018 in collaboration with the composer