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Autobiochemistry (mezzo-soprano with cello)

by Elliott Gyger (2019)

Work Overview

Autobiochemistry sets thirteen poems from the 2019 collection of the same name by Sydney poet Tricia Dearborn, for the intimate combination of mezzo-soprano and cello. Each poem is titled after a chemical element, exploring its resonances with human experience via biology, personal anecdote and vivid metaphor. Elements such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and iron have key biochemical functions, made personal and relatable in such forms as tears, alcohol, breath and blood. Others enter our daily lives via technology: silicon in a computer chip, silver in photography, tungsten in a light bulb filament, iridium in a fountain pen nib. Still others become metaphors for aspects of human nature: the violent reactiveness of sodium, the incorruptibility of gold. Every poem creates its own miniature, intimate world.

The cello is customised by retuning the D string down to C#; this created some intriguing new possibilities, including more different pitches available as natural harmonics. Contrast is provided by two movements for voice alone, and two for cello alone - the latter not interludes but instrumental settings of poems, syllable-by-syllable or line-by-line.

Work Details

Year: 2019

Instrumentation: Mezzo-soprano, cello.

Duration: 27 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: I. Hydrogen -- II. Carbon -- III. Oxygen -- IV. Sodium -- V. Silicon -- VI. Calcium -- VII. Manganese -- VIII. Iron -- IX. Silver -- X. Tungsten -- XI. Iridium -- XII. Gold -- XIII. Lead.

Dedication note: For Jenny and Geoff

First performance: by Jenny Duck-Chong, Rosanne Hunt at Halcyon presents Autobiochemistry (Summer Hill Church) on 8 Dec 2022

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2022 Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize Winner Elliott Gyger


Resonate article: 2022 Paul Lowin Prizes Winners Announced by Australian Music Centre

Performances of this work

8 Dec 2022: at Halcyon presents Autobiochemistry (Summer Hill Church). Featuring Jenny Duck-Chong, Rosanne Hunt.

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