Andrew FORD (b. 1957) The Laughter of Mermaids 1991, Words by Maria Blakey
Commissioned by The Song Company with assÌstance from the Australia Council.
Maria Blakey's principal text for this work is supplemented by ten subsidiariy texts by the same
writer. These grow out of the original, amplifying it and elaborating upon it. The Laughter of
Mermaids is a multi-voiced work, but as with other examples of the genre - Virginia Woolf's The
Waves, the string quartets of Elliott Carter or Berio's A-Ronne (an obvious model of sorts for the
present work) - there is a sense in which the individual voices are different aspects of one voice.
I asked Maria Blakey to provide a text in which there was mercurial quality about voice, point of
view, tone etc. The necessarily disparate text which resulted then required some unifying
musical element. A line in the second draft of the text sparked the idea of employing a ground
bass: Maria had written "Remember me", immediately suggestive of Dido's lament, "When I am
laid in earth". I took Purcell's ground bass and reworked it until it became something entirely
different. lt is at this point that lhe Laughter of Mermaids starts. As the piece progresses, the
ground (often merely a harmonic field) slowly becomes the original Purcell, finally croaked out
on the last page of the score by the bass voice. A.F