on music and beauty

Tag: voice

river teach me


river teach me sets to music the English version of ‘To the river’, a poem by Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), from the collection Report from the Besieged City, first published in Warsaw in 1983, and translated into English by John and Bogdana Carpenter in 1985. I’ve always been fascinated by the particular way in which Herbert pitches his voice, pursuing the truth with a language both simple and profound. Before writing river teach me I set to music another poem from the same collection, ‘The Divine Claudius‘, for narrator and small ensemble. river teach me was selected for the SPNM [Society for the Promotion of New Music] shortlist in 2003.

Herbert concluded one of his sketches with these words: We are the ones who are poor, very poor. The great majority of contemporary art comes out in favour of chaos, gesticulating in vacuity or recounting the history of its own sterile spirit. All the Old Masters, without exception, could say with Racine: ‘We work in order to please the public’, which means that they believed in the sense of their work, and in the possibility of inter-human understanding… Praise be to such naiveté.

Live recording of the first performance by Christine Sjölander, mezzo-soprano, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Daniele Rosina. 11 December 2002, Birmingham Conservatoire, Recital Hall.

* * *

River__hourglass of water metaphor of eternity
I enter you more and more changed
so I could be a cloud a fish a rock
while you are the same like a clock that measures
the metamorphoses of the body and descents of the spirit
slow disintegration of tissues and love

I who am born of clay
want to be your pupil
and learn the spring the Olympian heart
o cool torch rustling column
bedrock of my faith and my despair

river teach me stubbornness and endurance
so in the last hour I become worthy
of rest in the shade of the great delta
in the holy triangle of the beginning and of the end

* * *

© Zbigniew Herbert
[English translation © John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter]

Boys And Girls Between The Wars


In Boys And Girls Between The Wars I wanted to use Sebastian Schloessingk’s poem – both its phonetics and content – as the source of all the musical ideas. The text generates a form for the composition, and the music occupies a vast territory between onomatopeia and metaphor, bringing to life contrasting musical objects held together by subtle harmonic relations. This piece serves also as the model for a later orchestral piece, …the sun is out, the sun is out.

Finally, Boys And Girls Between The Wars is also a profoundly felt homage to the wonderful Chansons madécasses by Maurice Ravel, one of the highlights of vocal music of all times, written for the same instrumental ensemble.

Written in 1994 and revised in 2001, Boys And Girls Between The Wars was premiered by Sarah Busfield, voice, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Liz Johnson on 27 June 2001, Birmingham Conservatoire, Recital Hall.

* * *

Clouds move in parallel rows
granting the sun stern terms,
So when the clouds pull off in all
directions, like torture horses,
a camera’s shutter,
birds from shot, salt water
from a rock, this is childish.
A big child in a garden of bouncy
foliage. Look.
Original sky, fat bombers slog
across it, the child is a boy. Great flowers
dash up to the bombers’ lumber and pry
decorating round their legs, the child is
a girl, the sun is out, the sun is out.

© Sebastian Schloessingk

Three Sephardi Melodies

Three arrangements of traditional Sephardi melodies commissioned by Alberto Iona and the Toujours Ensemble to mark an important occasion of Turin’s Jewish community.  Scored for baritone, flute, clarinet, guitar and cello.

Live recording of the first performance by Alberto Jona, baritone and the Toujours Ensemble. Turin, 1994.

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