New Work: The Grave Was Too Small So We Had To Take the Horse Out

And the prize for best title goes to…

Poet Heather Christle, whose three books rule. I’ve been meaning to set her work for a while, and when I finally did it was an elaborate cycle of nine poems for two voices and two instruments. I even took the time to write them entirely by hand, for some reason. Unfortunately, they were not good.

Well, some of them were not good. Some of them were good. Therefore I took the good ones and discarded the bad ones and the four good ones together made The Grave Was Too Small So We Had To Take the Horse Out. It’s for two sopranos and violin; each soprano has one solo and they sing together twice. The whole piece lasts about ten minutes, which seems about right.

It’s another cellular song cycle where a simple motive repeats under the vocalists, whose lines shift and change as they interpret the words. The concluding song is one of my most radically simple; a two-chord motive repeats more than one hundred times without variation under the sopranos. Hopefully it’s hypnotic and lovely, not boring and deathly.

Probably the best thing about this piece is now that I (sort of) play the mandolin, I actually have an idea of how to write for violin (they have the same fingering). Which is nice. It’s always good when people can actually play your pieces. An earlier piece for voice and violin, Orfordness – actually a favorite of mine – turns out to be basically unplayable. I am sad. It’s going to have to be re-orchestrated, we’ll see how that goes…

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