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A song cycle for 3 female soloists, string quartet, piano, bass clarinet and alto flute. 11 songs in all some 45 minutes- modelled after Schoenberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' and dramatically depicting the thoughts of a woman suffering a serious illness. Parts are available at no extra charge if required.
11 poems of Jane Wyatt set by contemporary classical music composer Joe St.Johanser, ideal for a 3 woman recital. - for 3 sopranos/mezzos and chamber orchestra of 7 players fl.(alto), bass cl., stg qt., pno. Duration 50 minutes.
The work is for three sopranos or mezzo-sopranos rather than the conventional one voice. It is hoped that three contrasting voices and styles of delivery will further increase the range of Sprechstimme presented. No indication is made as to which singer will take which song - leaving this interesting matter as an aleatoric element from the composer’s viewpoint. Joe St.Johanser August 2002
I ‘ The Year of the Green Parrots’
III ‘On Waking’
IV ‘Poplars on the Epte’
V ‘The Landscape under the Snow’
VI ‘Old Wine’
VII ‘Defeating Innuendo’
VIII ‘Doppler Shift’
IX ‘Fear of Flying’
X ‘Cold Spell’
XII ‘The Butterfly’
Composer's Note: My song cycle ‘The Year of the Green Parrots’ (January 2002) is for three sopranos or mezzo sopranos and chamber orchestra, using eleven from the fourteen poems of poet and singer Jane Wyatt with this title. The poems, in elliptical and allegorical style, tell of a year of illness and heartbreak which ends in healing and calm. find the poems magical and dramatic and I intend the music to reflect this mood. I have not enquired as to the particular circumstances behind the poetry, but Jane tells me the green parrots were real, and that there is an urban legend relating to them. A barge was travelling down the Thames carrying, amongst other cargo, a consignment of exotic green parrots. It foundered between taines and Chertsey and started to sink. The bargee released the caged birds into the wild rather than let them drown. A flock of the green parrots, survivors or descendants, can now be seen flying on the Surrey and Middlesex border!
Among many influences in the gestation of the work is the Schoenberg Opus 21 song cycle with quintet ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ (1912), which introduced the mode of half-speaking, half singing called Sprechstimme. This work uses a similar device and some explanation is needed for the performer, and perhaps for the listener. First, please recall the moment when, listening to a song performance, the music and the meaning of a word or phrase may coincide completely to produce a magical elation. The intense feeling produces tears or laughter according to the mood. This human communication is a justification for art. The Lieder or opera singer strives to make this happen by bel canto singing with occasional added colour and emotion (roughness) in the voice at certain times. aveform analysis of the sounds of great artists (Callas, among others) shows the extent to which they vary the written pitch and depart from bel canto norms at certain moments. My use of Sprechstimme is an attempt to formalise some of this musical expression. Schoenberg defines Sprechstimme (or Sprechmelodie) as 1) adhering to the notated rhythm, 2) indicating notated pitch but abandoning it by rising or falling. However, performances of ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ are remarkable for the different terpretations singers make of these instructions. There is of course an infinitely variable range of expression between speech and song. I have formalised four versions: bel canto singing (normal noteheads); Sprechstimme Style A (triangle noteheads) - clamatory sung speech with shortened vowels and lengthened consonants, pitches maintained; Style B (diamond noteheads) more speechlike than A, much expression (growls, croaks, squeals), pitches only approximate with much portamento; Style C (cross noteheads) - pure speech - poetry reading - pitches natural (not notated), but rhythm approximately as per notes.
The performer’s task is to derive the mood and character of the individual pieces from the words as much as from the music and to feel entirely free to add whatever her artistic feeling suggests as appropriate. The work will only exist as it is performed and the creative act is ultimately that of the performer. Jane has said ‘when you give your words to someone they will put their own energy into them and those words will evolve - in this case into music - and when that music has been written and is given to the singer, that singer will invest her own energy and change the music in ways that the composer did not expect. In the end the poetry/song will gain because of these dynamics - it will not take any energy or meaning away’.
3 Songs of John Drinkwater for Singer and Chamber Octet (Fl., Ob., Bsn. dbl Contra, Harp, Stg.Qt.). 3 songs in all some 15 minutes. Parts are available at no extra charge if required. Other instrument combinations can be made available.
Listen to a recording of the 3 songs on youtube - see you tube for performers3 Songs of John Drinkwater for Singer and Chamber Octet
A song cycle for soprano, cello and piano. In all some 12 minutes- other instrument combinations are available.
Watch videos on youtube - see youtube for performers'She sang and sang all day' - Song 1
Download the poems and peruse while listening to these tracks
Invisible Mother - Op.20
Song for Mezzo-soprano, Flute and Piano - Words and Music by Joe St.Johanser
A wryly comic song about motherhood and the extinction of personality that often follows - other instrument combinations available
Download the poem and peruse while listening to the track Download
Listen to a recording on youtube - see cast on youtube Invisible Mother
A song cycle for baritone and chamber group. 3 songs in all some 10 minutes
Excellent for a baritone recital.
Download the poems and peruse while listening to the track
Listen to a recording on youtube (with added sound effects!)
Meeting at Night -Parting At Morning - not yet recorded
Listen to a recording on youtube - Helen Semple (soprano) and Suzanne Evans (viola)
'The Rose Red Chain'Download the score
Listen to a recording on youtube - Anna Loveday (mezzo-soprano), conductor Joanna Bywater
For enquiries please email
setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti in nine fragements as a ballet.
(fl., ob., bsn.(contra), hrp., stg.qt.).
Christina Rossetti's poem set to music. Ballet - Duration 15 minutes. Christina Rossetti's strange poem tells of a Princess who travels over the sea to wed her Prince and meets her doom. An interesting and musically thrilling piece with a drama that will interest an audience and offer opportunites for several principals and a young corps de ballet.
Download the libretto and peruse while listening to these tracks below.
Download the score Download