My initial concern with this piece was how I could translate, into music, the subtle shifts of mood and atmosphere in Glyn Maxwell’s text. For virtually two-thirds of the piece the music is dominated by the sound of a repeated G. It acts as a continuous linking device, whilst around it ideas develop, decay or return. So with the repeated G acting as a pivot point, I could move almost instantaneously from, for example, a moment of sombre reflection to more active material, but without the change seeming too abrupt. The repeated G is never entirely regular – sometimes it arrives fractionally earlier or later than expected. And it is almost never on the conductor’s beat – so there is a constant tension between the ensemble’s downbeat and the pulsed G. It is only at the main climax of the piece where this repeated G’s hold over the music finally breaks down.
All three singers have dual roles in this piece. They act together, especially at the opening, as a chorus of ‘creatures’. The soprano has her own part as Eve, the tenor as Adam, and the mezzo as a single ‘creature’. I wanted to help show the contrasts between the voices, by writing for each of them in a different way. So again, the pivot note G acts as a stabilising force, while around it the voices move between lyrical and more detached methods of singing.
As far as the ensemble’s sound goes, I opted for the lower, darker tones of the alto flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet and bassoon. For the most part I didn’t want the ensemble to be too bright and dominant over the voices. The sounds of the plucked string instruments, the harp and guitar, are also important. The piece lasts about fourteen minutes.
First performed by BCMG conducted by Oliver Knussen on 14 April 2008 at CBSO Centre, Birmingham.