Birtwistle answers his birthday commission for us with another piece in the genre he invented two decades ago with what follows on this programme: a double song for soprano and female speaking voice. This time the two are on separate tracks, with their own texts: for the singer, a poem by Rilke translated into English by Jochen Voigt; for the speaker, fragments adapted from Swinburne’s elegy for Baudelaire, Ave atque vale.

Almost all that links these poems is that both are addressed to a silent individual, one who is close but separate, and may not be hearing what is said. Out of this comes the drama – and the music – of the piece. The singing voice begins, with strings. The speaker interrupts, with piccolo, in her own tempo. But then it is as if nothing had happened; the singer goes on – except that the change to the scoring begins to infiltrate her music, until not only the piccolo but also two other woodwind instruments, bass clarinet and oboe d’amore, become part of the orchestra, joined late in the day by a percussionist.

It may seem, too, that the voices, singing and speaking, become at the same time aware of each other, aware of belonging together, as their words begin to echo one another.

Paul Griffiths

BCMG gave the world premiere of ... when falling asleep on 22 September 2019 at CBSO Centre, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson. We are incredibly touched that this was one of Sir Harrisons Birtwistle's final pieces. 

...when falling asleep has been commissioned by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with financial assistance from Arts Council England and individuals through BCMG’s Sound Investment scheme.

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