MORDACIOUS LIPS, TO DUST
for four singers (soprano, countertenor, tenor, bass)
text by Pia Palme
Happy to announce:
The composition won the George Butterworth Prize 2016!
The jury was “impressed by the beauty and pacing of the work and the skill demonstrated in the handling of the material”
Composed for the ensemble EXAUDI in a longer process during 2014/15,
as part of the Sound and Music Portfolio Project.
The composition was further supported by the Kulturabteilung der Stadt Wien Musik and the BKA Austria.
Premiered by ensemble EXAUDI at the EXAUDI EXPOSURE2015
17th October 2015, The Warehouse, London.
Juliet Fraser – soprano
Tom Williams – countertenor
Stephen Jeffes – tenor
Simon Whiteley – bass
James Weeks – director
Live recording of premiere:
In Part I the soprano performs a virtuosic solo part, which is written to highlight the soprano voice – whilst the three male voices provide a shifty microtonal background of hushed activity. In Part II all four singers perform a microtonal partsong together, ending with the whispered word Staub (German for dust).
In the text for this work, I discuss the category ‘beauty’ from an artistic perspective. For me beauty is represented in texts, words, music, artwork… I was never interested in beauty, or beautiful appearance, as a woman. Why should I care about visual beauty, fashion, shoes or a hairstyle? That’s a prison to keep you busy in (I cite the Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek here). As a composer, I appear through my works, in this case, compositions. My text was inspired by the Mexican author Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz; she argued along the same line, as a writer, in the Baroque period.
In the title of my work…
…the adjective mordacious makes reference to the irate female voice permeating the composition. As a composer, I pay homage to Homer’s epos Iliad, which begins with the Ancient Greek word for wrath, summoning a female voice to sing about the fury that caused warfare and bloodshed
(‘The wrath, goddess, sing…’).
The baroque ornament mordent is frequently used in this piece to enhance singular notes in the soprano part. I wanted to compose a quick and subtle aural accent, which might cause an aural twinkle that would cut, bite or sting through the mechanisms of listening, to open up a glimpse of another dimension. The text for the soprano summons the thorns of a rose, shards of glass, or the penetrating power of love and madness to punctuate reality and skin.
Etymologically, the words mordacious and mordent originate from the same source, the Ancient Greek term σμερδαλέος ‘smerdaleos’ — painful, horrible. One could go further back to the ancient Indo-European ‘(s)merd’ — to bite, to sting. The German word ‘Schmerz’ — pain is also connected to this origin, as well as the English term smart. As a feminist composer, I find these connections stimulating.
Ich denke also bist
bin ich gedacht
scharfkantig reisst Raum
aussen sehnt sich
sehnt sich nach Liebe
Rose mit Dornen
trifft die Fingerspitzen
Rose reisst Raum
in die Wirklichkeit
Löcher in mein Lied
lockt Blut in den Schnee
barfuss auf einer Wiese
The text for the male voices
is a collage composed of English verbs, found in selected editions of the The New York Times International Weekly during the period of composing. The verbs were excerpted from articles spanning a wide array of themes, and their grammatical appearance was left unchanged.