Cantor (after Willa Cather) : soprano with ensemble
by Lisa Illean (2017)
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It is listed in our catalogue because an event featuring a performance of this work was included in our calendar of Australian music. Details of this performance are listed below.
Expressed better than I could, A.S. Byatt writes of Willa Cather's work: "their newness is contained in an extraordinary lucidity…" I was drawn to the directness and simplicity of Cather's text as a conduit for imagining the way a variety of vocal mannerisms might be folded and absorbed in subtle ways into an individual voice. In Cantor the woman's voice is gentle but resilient, as she contemplates the land around her, contends with loneliness and finds peace in solitude. Bearing solitude gracefully is a recurring theme: in atmosphere, Cantor is both desolate and intimate. At times the music should be sung or played with spontaneity, as if it is being improvised to oneself.
I draw on three of Cather's poems, each underpinning one of the movements in Cantor (titled 'stirring', 'stealing' and 'closing' respectively). All set in twilight (either dawn or dusk), Cather creates in these striking images of water ditches glinting like "swift, bright" lances flung across the land and the "trackless dust" of the mid-west plains. Her descriptions of the natural world-of light, water and sounds-are beautifully rendered and seem invested with a sense of wonder that persists from childhood. So breathing sounds and gestures permeate Cantor, and recurring flaring patterns evoke glowing shafts of light. There are also traces of other elements-a polka? A hammer dulcimer?-never explicitly mimicked but colouring the fabric of the music. Cather speaks of an impulse towards "finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole…"
There are some sounds that could be radio static, or rain-or both-and I like this ambiguity, the soft delineation between inside and outside worlds. Cantor superimposes cycles of lines, waves or impulses, creating a convergence of layers composed of simple elements. Musically, the texture is like a tableau upon which the voice carves its line. Aligning myself with the locale of Cather's texts, I draw in an imaginative and subtle way on some of the vocal traditions brought by the huge wave of transatlantic immigration to Nebraska in the 1890's-and invite the vocalist to do the same. I am fascinated by the voice's empathetic inclinations-for example, by the way tone, pace or accent are often sensitively adapted in response to another.
© Lisa Illean, September 2017
Instrumentation: Soprano, flute (doubling alto flute), clarinet in Bb, piano, percussion (1 player), violin, viola, cello, double bass.
Duration: 15 min.
Contents note: I. Prelude -- II. Stirring -- III. Interlude -- IV. Stealing -- V. Interlude -- VI. Closing -- VII. L'Envoi.
Commission note: The creation of 'Cantor' was generously supported by the 2016 APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund
Cantor represented Australia at the 2018 International Rostrum of Composers.
Awards & Prizes
|2018||Art Music Awards: Work of the Year: Instrumental||Winner||Lisa Illean|
Resonate article: Lisa Illean and Cantor by Anni Heino
Resonate article: 2018 Art Music Awards - comments by judging panels by Australian Music Centre
Cantor, by Lisa Ilean, after texts by Willa Cather
Performed by Ensemble Offspring and Jessica Aszodi at Carriageworks, September 2017. Created with the generous support of the 2016 APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund.
Performances of this work
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