1/05/06 – in collaboration with Sue Wood; a song cycle for soprano, piano, four bassoons, ghettoblaster and video

Composer’s note

This collaboration arose out of a mutual sense that although historically words and music have seemed to go together in terms of setting a poem to music, that confidence needs questioning. Whose art is to be compromised?

The five songs approach the question in different ways. In ‘Seven Shades of White’, the poet offered up an existing work, ‘Arctic’, which the composer mistranslated into German and partially set using both languages.

For the second song we have ‘Leider Nicht’, an antidote to lieder, punning on the fact that a simple spelling mistake turns the German word for ‘song’ into that for ‘unfortunately’. The composer wrote the music, then fitted to it a more or less nonsensical text in French and German. These words were then adopted by the poet as a starting point for her own pastiche.

‘fleeting’ has a lyric by the composer himself, and ‘fistfull’ no words at all. The final song had a complex genesis; the poet was sent some musical sketches, which prompted her to write ‘The Dark Wood’, drawing on the opening lines of Dante’s ‘Inferno’. This then became the only piece in which the composer set the poet’s words (more or less) intact.

Finally, ‘Schaduwee’ is a word which exists in neither Afrikaans nor Dutch (but possibly in Flemish); a confabulation of the Dutch ‘schaduwen’ and the Afrikaans ‘skaduwee’, both of which can mean ‘shadows’ or ‘shade’.


First performed 3/05/06 by Alexa Mason (soprano), Laura Baxter (piano), Vick Scott, Alastair Collins, Eanna Monaghan, and Fraser Gordon (bassoons) as part of the RSAMD’s inaugural Plug festival of new music. The work was rapturously received by a sell-out audience, and garnered a rave review from Michael Tumelty in the Glasgow Herald; ‘five stars… originality of creative thought… a musical, literary and theatrical questioning of language… abundant with ideas, arcane and mundane… a mind expanding night…’

Duration ~35′