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Fire-featuring heaven : for vocal sextet and electronics

by Jack Symonds (2023)

Work Overview

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889) was a visionary, iconoclastic virtuoso who bent the sounds of the English language to his unique poetic take on nature, God, and humanity's relationship with them both. Far in advance of many twentieth century poets who conducted similar experiments on the form of words, Hopkins supercharged language with a unique pattern of accents, rhythms, rhymes and collisions of sounds that I find musically irresistible.

The content and expression for which he is most known is a kind of radiant, ecstatic positivity uniting the wonders of the natural world to our divine perception of it. However, his late poem 'Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves '(1886) is a much more apocalyptic vision of heaven and hell, containing bleak ruminations on the likely fate of most of humanity: a desolate 'Dies Irae'. Hopkins himself said that the poem should be 'performed',

The words seem to grind against each other, warping and buckling under the intense pressure of Hopkins's dark ruminations. I have sought to amplify the linear arrangement of words in the poem by drawing out the correspondences of vowel/consonant sounds and language forms. Six voices often form an unruly, heterophonic unison that is further augmented by live electronics which take the percussive points of vocal contact in Hopkins to their logical extreme. I have attempted to give Hopkins's vision 'linear form' in time by distorting the natural rhythm of his sonnet, attempting a three-dimensional representation of the 'inner sound' of the poem itself.

Work Details

Year: 2023

Instrumentation: 2 sopranos, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, live electronics (separate performer running Max).

Duration: 9 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by The Song Company.

First performance: by The Song Company, Benjamin Carey, Jack Symonds — 9 Jun 23. The Neilson, Pier 2/3 Sydney

Performances of this work

9 Jun 23: The Neilson, Pier 2/3 Sydney. Featuring The Song Company, Benjamin Carey, Jack Symonds.

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