This piece is scored for Soprano and Piano. A Penny for a Song was written in Autumn 1981 for Penny Price Jones and Philip Martin, who commissioned it with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain. It consists of ten songs, prefaced by a piano piece, which acts as a refrain, heard again between Nos. 6 and 7, and before the last song.
All the texts are miniatures; some are haiku, a Japanese Zen poetic form, and they all have in common a number of Haiku characteristics, such as vivid imagery, seasonal or natural, and allusive brevity. The poems are small, but they have a resonance extending far beyond themselves. Zen artists love to play with space: through a few brush strokes they conjure up a world of detail; they suggest infinitely expanding space through the implications of a few lines on a nearly empty background. This has been my approach in the music of A Penny for a Song. The songs are fleeting, momentary; they are echoes of a world that is always there if we stop to listen for it.