2 Partsongs, Op.7 (Legge, Philip)
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|Work Title||2 Partsongs|
|Opus/Catalogue Number||Op. 7|
|Key||E♭ major; G major|
|Year/Date of Composition||2009–10|
|First Performance||22 October 2010|
|Librettist||Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)|
Lewis Carroll (1832–98)
|Average Duration||7 minutes (4’ + 3’)|
|Instrumentation||SATB–SATB; Bass solo, SATB|
Text for inclusion in programme notes
Music, when Soft Voices die, mainly written in August 2009, is a grave, intricate setting of a short poem in two stanzas by the romantic poet Shelley (1792–1822). The work is written for two SATB choirs, the second of which (marked semplice, or “simple”) holds long, sustained chords in the fashion of a drone, against which the voices of the first choir slowly weave dissonant and highly chromatic lines, producing dense chord clusters. The music, always specified to be quiet and calm, briefly becomes more active at the end of the first stanza as the first choir, followed by the second, seize on the phrase “within the sense they quicken”. After a short pause the second stanza begins almost at the same starting point as the first, but the exploratory chromatic harmonies of the first verse are gradually nullified, whereupon a diatonic canon takes over the first choir, during which the second choir disappears entirely. The last phrase ambiguously presents successive chords of C major, B♭ major and G minor against the second choirs’ anchoring D major before the last chord tilts the ensemble up to the minor instance of the initial key of E♭.
Jabberwocky, written in the space of a few days in May 2010, is something of a mini-cantata version of Lewis Carroll’s famous poem from Through the Looking-Glass, in which the eponymous beast is hunted and slain by a young hero. The hero’s father has a singing rôle in verses 2 and 6, given to a solo bass and the entire tenor section respectively, which musically employ palindromic mirror-writing: in verse 2 the nervous, tremulous fear of the father is represented by an inflected, minor-key arabesque which is identical both forwards and backwards and is unsupported by ambiguous floating harmonies, whereas the triumphant hero’s return in verse 6 gives rise to an extroverted major-key scale passage: here the mirror version of the vocal line is inverted. The central verses 3, 4, and 5 vocally depict the dramatic action: long, loping phrases for the searching out of the foe in verse 3, followed by agitated semiquaver oscillations before the appearance of the whiffling and burbling Jabberwock in verse 4, which is duly dispatched by the heroic treble line in the next verse, ably abetted by the rhythmic hacking and galumphing of the underneath parts.
Verses 1 and 7 frame this little drama with Carroll’s best-known lines “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.” Verse 1, not surprisingly, consists of musical mirror-writing and is presented as a short, fast, self-contained overture, to be heard once backwards (exactly like the curious backwards poem that Alice finds in Looking-Glass Land) and once forwards. In Verse 7, the same motif initially heard in the soprano part becomes a reversible two-part canon at the distance of half a bar, while the altos and basses sing a slow, non-retrogradable accompaniment to finish the work in subdued and elegaic fashion.