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Sleeplessness ... Sails : mezzo-soprano voice with piano

by Lisa Illean (2018)

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The Australian Music Centre's catalogue does not include any recordings or sheet music of this work. This entry is for information purposes only.

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.

Work Overview

While writing this I have before me an untitled poem by Osip Mandelstam ('number 78', inscribed Crimea, 1915) from his collection Kamen (Stone).

In the opening lines the narrator cannot sleep. As he reads, the suspended state of insomnia is lithely mingled with the image of a fleet of ships suspended mid-voyage, resembling a herd of cranes in flight. The vocal line unfolds slowly, recalling Joseph Brodsky's observation that in Mandelstam "words, even their letters-vowels especially-are almost palpable vessels of time." Upon this, the piano flickers with waves of stratified sonorities-fluctuating, inhaling and expiring.

Contrary to this graceful and lingering picture, the poem closes thunderously: with the roars and recitations of the encroaching sea. The arresting final image perhaps alludes to the ancient affinities between music, word and thought as the sea-here both orator and noise-maker-resounds in elemental sound patterning. I have vivid childhood memories of tracing the ebbing rushes of the sea at night with heightened ear and imagination. Bridging both ends of the poem is the notion that all things are impelled by a kinship, or love.

My heartfelt thanks to Rachel Polonsky for creating a new translation of Mandelstam's poem for this occasion.

Work Details

Year: 2018

Instrumentation: Voice (mezzo-soprano), piano.

Duration: 6 min.

Difficulty: Medium

Dedication note: Dedicated with gratitude to the staff and students at the Royal College of Music (in particular to Jonathan Cole); and to Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton.

Commission note: Commissioned by the BBC for the 2018 Proms Chamber series at Cadogan Hall

First performance: by Sarah Connolly, Joseph Middleton at BBC Proms at... Cadogan Hall - Concert 4 (Cadogan Hall) on 6 Aug 2018

Performances of this work

6 Aug 2018: at BBC Proms at... Cadogan Hall - Concert 4 (Cadogan Hall). Featuring Sarah Connolly, Joseph Middleton.

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