Songs for the moon : for soprano and piano
by John Peterson (2016)
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Library shelf no. 783.66547/PET 1 [Not for loan]
These songs take their texts from several poets who lived in
quite different parts of the world in order to offer a variety of
perspectives on our relationship with the moon.
The meaning of "Alone and Drinking Under the Moon", extracts of which are taken from a text by Chinese poet Li Po (AD 701-762), is quite clear: the narrator sits alone in the moonlight, drinking wine and ruminating about how, in that experiential moment, the moon appears as their only friend. I have chosen to set the text in a two quite different ways: the music for the opening stanza reflects the languid state of someone under the influence of wine, but also, in the use of a variety of gestures and textures in the piano music, offers an evocation of being 'amongst the flowers' (the external world). The music of the second stanza is quite different, offering an interpretation of the narrator's mental state (the internal world). Here, the change in perspective is reflected by a change in harmonic colour, and the narrator's ruminations about singing and dancing in an intoxicated state are represented by a gradual increase in rhythmic activity in the piano music that becomes increasingly chaotic, bringing the singer/narrator to the brink of collapse. At this point, the music returns to the languid style of the opening (external) world, bringing both the listener and the narrator back to reality and back 'amongst the flowers'.
The light of the sun, of course, illuminates the moon allowing us to see the valleys and the mountainous landscapes as light and dark shapes on the moon's surface. "Full Moon Rhyme", written by Australian poet Judith Wright (1915-2000), suggests that these shapes on the moon's surface can sometimes take on the characteristics of a recognisable image and, in this case, she imagines that wild dogs can recognise a 'hare in the moon'. Her text also infers that the dogs have been chasing a hare (or rabbit) but that they imagine that it has somehow made good its escape by leaping up to the moon's surface, and sits there taunting them. The music, then, entirely reflects
the attitudes of the dogs themselves, imitating at times their arrogant and determined strut as they think of themselves as perfectly in control of the situation, while at other times they appear much less certain but are still menacing and full of violent potential.
"Moonlight in the Forest", by Finnish poet Aaro Hellaakoski (1893-1952), offers evocative images of the effects of moonlight when one is walking through a forest at night. These fleeting images evoke a dream-like state where moonlight, and the subsequent shadows that are caused by it, produce a magical and almost surreal state, creating an impression of the suspension of both time and place. The piano music offers harmonically rich chords in the introduction, that make reference to the forest itself as an atmospheric but somewhat daunting entity, but then moves to a thinner, flowing texture where the piano music is written in a register so as to be often above the
soprano's melodic line, placing the singer 'under sleepy branches'.
The final song, "Prayer to the Young Moon" takes its text from an indigenous 'hymn' collected by W.H.I. Bleek and L.C. Lloyd in southern Africa in the early part of the twentieth century. I have chosen to set this not as a 'hymn', as it is unlikely the San bushmen would have used that term, but as a rhythmic and energetic dance, one that celebrates the moon as not only something special but also an essential part of our lives. The vocalise sections of this song evoke a point in the celebration where words themselves are insufficient to express the sense of wonder about the vitality of the moon and what it offers to our world.
Instrumentation: Soprano, piano.
Duration: 19 min.
Contents note: Alone and drinking under the moon (6 min., 15 sec.) -- Full moon rhyme (4 min., 20 sec.) -- Moonlight in the forest (4 min.) -- Prayer to the young moon (4 min., 10 sec.).
Commission note: Commissioned by Wendy Dixon.
- In the form/style of: Song Cycles
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