Lilburn composed these songs in 1958 for the baritone Donald Munro and his wife the violist Jean McCartney, who gave the first broadcast performance.
The influence of serialism on the composer’s style at this point in his career makes for a challenging vocal line, especially in the first two songs. Nonetheless, Lilburn’s work capitalizes on the affinities between voice and viola, and exploits technical capabilities of the viola to evoke moods rather than painting the words. In the penultimate verse of “Warning of Winter”, for example, the viola’s wavering line, thickened with chords, heralds the darkness of winter that “descends the flowered pathway”. Such subtle evocation of the text is also found in “Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness”. Here the viola’s wide leaps to high trills are to be executed with the bow placed over the fingerboard; this evokes the troubling paradoxes of spring, the “Birds that are silent now/And buds of barren springing”. Between these bleak poles, the viola and voice pairing are used with bold irony in “Song of Allegiance”. This march is a poet’s humble yet robust reflection on his own position in comparison to the poetic geniuses of the past. Again Lilburn enlists the viola to speak with and as the poet: wide intervals, tense chords, and motivic stutters convey a poetic voice that is “cracked and harsh”.