“Songs can be intensely personal (whether you hear them or sing them) and none of us would choose the same twelve songs as anyone else. My choices are based on decades of performing experience in many different genres, but I hope they will reveal aspects of our common humanity as the story evolves from the Middle Ages to the present.”
In this celebratory account, author and singer John Potter tells the European story of song. The form has captivated audiences and excited performers for centuries, from the music of the troubadours and the Christian liturgy through classical composers such as Bach and Schumann up to Britten, Berio, and the rise of popular music.
Choosing twelve key works, Potter offers a personal tour through this vital tradition, from John Dowland’s “Flow My Tears” to George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Throughout, he reveals who wrote and sang these joyful masterpieces—and what they mean to singers and audiences today.
“John Potter’s timely and ecumenical meditation on 12 songs explores the enigmatic nature of what constitutes a song, why songs continue to be important, and perhaps how or whether they can survive as a uniquely human undertaking.”—Sting
“Erudite, witty, rewardingly provocative and absorbing – this book got me revisiting the songs I used to sing and rushing to seek out the ones I didn’t know.”—Catherine Bott, singer and broadcaster
“A richly fascinating take on the enduring power and shape-shifting form of the art song, told with authority and wit by the uniquely qualified John Potter.”—Kerry Andrew, composer, performer and author
“John Potter's wide-ranging experience across many styles of vocal music ensures an entertaining and original view.”—John Surman, saxophonist and composer
“The mix of skill, erudition, and imagination that has distinguished John Potter's recordings with the Dowland Project and the Hilliard Ensemble finds its echo in these wide-ranging texts on the history of song. Whether writing about the innovations of Josquin Desprez, the playful songs of Erik Satie, or Berio's experimental settings of James Joyce, Potter's perspective is always a fresh one.” —Manfred Eicher, founder of ECM Records