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Desert songs : mezzo-soprano voice with piano

by Becky Llewellyn (1995)

Score Sample

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Audio Sample

Performance by Jeannie Marsh, Diana Harris from the CD Selected Works by AMC Represented Artists, vol. 113.

Selected Works by AMC Represented Artists, vol. 113.


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Desert songs


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Desert songs : mezzo soprano and piano / Becky Llewellyn.

Library shelf no. 783.67542/LLE 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

I enjoy writing art song and finding the inner meaning of a poem with the right orchestration. Deceptively simple yet resonant poetry by Hispanic poet, Pat Mora, has provided Desert Songs as occasions to explore womanhood and identity from different persectives. The songs may be sung separately or as a whole song cycle.

In a book on landscape and the female tradition, I was thrilled to discover poems by Pat Mora, noted Hispanic poet from Southwest USA. I set three of her poems about women as deserts and cactus for mezzo and piano. They take me to my second home, Tucson Arizona, where survival is tough in the desert. She captures these in her strong words and I have tried to make them dance off the page in Unrefined. The song's first line is "The desert is no lady." A vibrant percussive piano underlies a dynamic, free-wheeling vocal line.

Aztec Princess is about the profoundly intimate and often vexed relationship of a mother and daughter. It is set in an ancient place where an umbilical cord is buried and the daughter unearths instead of a shriveled cord, rich earth. The air of stillness and intensity makes it a short but powerful narrative of the search for identity and freedom. Pat Mora's poem is a gift for a composer.

I wanted to honour ancient women and a timeless experience so decided to move vocally beyond the bel canto tradition of open vowels. In Desert Women, I explore the power of resonant consonants and harmonics with the female voice. The imagery is the parallel survival of women and cactus and the deeper meaning of this is explored in the piano part. I spent quite a time trying to orchestrate the mood of sound echoing between walls of huge canyons under unrelentingly hot domes of sun. This duet is my homage to the incredible power in silence, the lineage of knowingness of women who in the tough struggle to survive, actually thrive and bloom.

Work Details

Year: 1995

Instrumentation: Mezzo soprano, piano.

Duration: 10 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — rhythmically challenging - extended vocal techniques

Contents note: Unrefined -- Aztec Princess -- Desert Women.

First performance: by Jeannie Marsh, Diana Harris — 30 May 93. Flinders Sreet School of Music, Adelaide

Based on poems by Pat Mora.

'Aztec princess' written 1994; 'Unrefined' written 1992; 'Desert women' written 1995.

Performances of this work

26 Nov 98: New Music Australia for ABC Classic FM, Studio 520 ABC Collinswood SA. Featuring Rosie Glow, Gabriella Smart.

30 May 93: Recital Room, Flinders Street School of Music, Adelaide. Featuring Jeannie Marsh, Diana Harris.

30 May 93: Flinders Sreet School of Music, Adelaide. Featuring Jeannie Marsh, Diana Harris.

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