The Momenta String Quartet and Silvie Jensen, mezzo soprano
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I. Field of Eyes Wide:
VII. Prayer for Sorrow:
Michael Haas, cello
Live performance of “The Unrecovered”
Years Later is a song cycle for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. The cycle is the product of my collaboration with violist and musicologist Robert Fallon in response to eight poems by Penelope Cray. These poems are written in the first person, and the speaker is a father who has committed suicide. He finds himself in a field, a place of limbo where he can observe memories of the world he used to inhabit, particularly of his young daughter. The elegiac narrative that structures these poems contrasts starkly with vivid pastoral imagery; mynas, orange trees, bees, daisies, and rainstorms become unsettling foils for the themes of death, isolation, and sorrow. The first song I composed for the cycle, Stone Slivers, is for solo viola and mezzo-soprano and was written for Dr. Fallon, a Messiaen scholar. Its harmonic language is derived from Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition, which are nontraditional scales that are symmetrical and can be divided into identical subsets. The harmonic ambiguity afforded by the modes served me well in depicting the concurrently pastoral and elegiac themes in Cray’s poetry. I saw a lot of potential in the pairing of this harmonic language with this poetry and thus expanded the work to a full eight-song cycle, half of which utilizes the full quartet while the other half features subsets of the quartet with the singer, another nod to Messiaen. The cycle utilizes four different modes paired two at a time within the cycle.