Augusta Read Thomas : In My Sky at Twilight — Songs of Passion and Love
William G. Simpson generously asked me to make a composition based on the theme "enduring love that spans the chasm of death." The result is In My Sky at Twilight
, a collection of songs inspired by passion and love, commissioned in loving memory of Marilyn M. Simpson by her devoted family.
Last year in Paris, Christine Brandes premiered the solo part in my Daylight Divine
for solo soprano, chorus, and orchestra. She was absolutely amazing, and I was eager to work with her again. In My Sky at Twilight
was tailor-made for her voice.
Pablo Neruda's poem, "In My Sky at Twilight" (translated by W. S. Merwin), was the starting point of my research for texts to include in this composition. Of great concern to me was the sound of the words, which I wanted to be musical, graceful, and resonant.
You are taken in the net of my music, my love,
And my nets of music are wide as the sky.
My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning.
In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begins.
The music, which emerges in two large sections, Deeper Than all Roses
, can be heard as suggestive of a fantastic dream. An orchestral interlude separates the two parts.
The two opening texts, "Ablaze with desire, . . . " and "0 lyric love, half angel and half bird / And all a wonder and a wild desire," establish the contrasting nature of the music: at times blazing, at times lyric. The music is fiery, colorful, elegant, and bold; then, on a dime, it transforms into a tender, gentle, and smooth sound world.
The words from Christina Rossetti's beautiful poem "Echo,"
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.
open the Lament
and set the stage for the entire second movement, which ends with quiet resolve.
I am a firm believer that form must be the best reaction to the objects calling it into being. One cannot stuff a piece into an ABA form, like putting a square peg in a round hole. The aura and quality of the musical materials inspire the music into its asymmetrical form, however, the music always reveals my ear's concern for contrasting colors and a detailed control over the flow, flux, proportion, and trajectory of the sounds.
I compose music that at times seems improvisatory and improvise music that at times seems composed. Hopefully the result is an "alive," "ardent" sound world. Nuance is essence for me, and my scores are always highly detailed. The entire piece is harmonically rooted, although great attention is given to motive, counterpoint, and color. I write music intuitively, but always with my brain turned on. One of my main artistic credos for a long time has been to examine small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color, etc.) and explore them from every possible perspective. The different perspectives reveal new musical elements, which I then transform, and which in turn become the musical development. Thus my works take on a kind of organic, circular, self-referential quality, while at the same time they clearly move forward.
Voice, bell, sun, spirit, prayer, stars, ceremony, sky, ritual are themes which have run through my music for years. I think of my music as lyricism under pressure. In My Sky at Twilight
is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Christine Brandes, and William G. Simpson. I would like to extend a very special thanks to Henry Fogel, Martha Gilmer, Cliff Colnot, Matias Tamopolsky, and Laura Pryzby.
Augusta Read Thomas
In My Sky at Twilight (2002), for soprano and chamber orchestra, sets a compilation of texts ranging from Sappho to Neruda. The soprano is pushed for long stretches into high, sustained and melodically fitful singing. Though Anne-Carolyn Bird handled her assignment ably, this style of writing for the voice seems a dated affectation of the avant-garde.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 09/04/2005
Thomas' In My Sky at Twilight was recorded just before its world premiere in December 2002 with CSO musicians and guests conducted by Pierre Boulez on the CSO's MusicNOW series in Symphony Center. Christine Brandes is the superb soprano soloist, unfurling Thomas' jagged, passionate melodies with controlled abandon and bringing a haunted radiance to poetic texts that range from Sappho to Pablo Neruda. Thomas' instrumental writing, so often full of unabashed wonderment and universe-embracing gestures, receives an intense, pristine performance from Boulez and his 18 musicians.
Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times
[The Chicago Symphony's] MusicNOW programs are voyages of fresh, stimulating musical discovery. Augusta Read Thomas' In My Sky at Twilight, a MusicNOW commission, works by accretion - layering a colorful, often sensuous array of sonorities from 18 strings, winds and percussion under the ecstatic leaps and lamenting descents of her lyrical, expressionistic vocal lines. Thomas' texts jump across the centuries, forming a poetic patchwork.
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
This 18-minute piece for soprano and 18 instruments written in 2002 strings together numerous poetic fragments from difference sources: ancient Egyptian and Japanese poetry, Sappho and Pindar, the Brownings, Flaubert, Hopkins, WS Merwin, Rossetti, Neruda, and Cummings all coalesce into a splashy, colorful, modernist mélange...The result is a vivid tapestry depicting the height of passion and its bittersweet (seemingly temporary) farewell. Boulez is the perfect interpretive match for this sensual and inevitably heartbroken material.
Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide
Boulez led the premiere of Thomas's work and listening to the electrically bright, percussively scintillating instrumental texture of In My Sky at Twilight, the affinity becomes clear. Thomas's piece is arresting and [her] style of text-setting is traditional and expressive. The work's structure is ingenious, too. Thomas has selected 16 lyric fragments spanning virtually the entire history of poetry and woven them together so that the seams essentially disappear. The music takes shape from the texts' progression of moods and styles, and the result sits halfway between a traditional song-cycle and a dramatic cantata. Very strongly recommended.
Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone
Augusta Read Thomas's In My Sky at Twilight is a setting for soprano and small orchestra of a range of texts, and as the composer suggests, it's like a fantastic dream. Thomas inhabits the broad middle ground of music, aiming to please a wide spectrum. The orchestral part is euphonious and resonant, often echoing the voice, and on this occasion of its UK premiere, Thomas got enthusiastic applause.
Adrian Jack, The Independent (London)
The other work on the disc is In My Sky at Twilight, a chamber-like piece that was premièred just two years ago. Boulez conducts it here in a blazing, virtuosic performance by the 18-piece Chicago MusicNOW Ensemble and soprano Christine Brandes. It's a passionate, ecstatic, tragic composition on the topic of love. Thomas has picked, excerpted and seamlessly strung together 16 poetic fragments, representative of three different millennia and many different parts of the globe. They include an anonymous love lyric from Ancient Egypt, Sappho and Pindar from Ancient Greece, a poet from ninth-century Japan, Gerard Manley Hopkins and other from nineteenth-century England, and Pablo Neruda and e.e. cummings from the twentieth century. These are grouped to make two contrasting narratives a perfervid movement flushed with sensuous love, and a quieter second movement dealing with loss and mourning but also, very movingly, with love that survives the scythe of death. So a particular dimension of human experience is at once universalized in the chosen excerpts, personalized in the single soprano's intense subjectivity, and rendered audible in her heightened, phatic vocalizing as well as in the rich sonic sonority imagery of the orchestral score. The work needs a soprano of consummate ability and it has one. Brandes is quite wonderful, singing almost continuously through the work's 19-minute duration, and doing so with warmth, power, precision and fine control of vocal timbre. There are surely few of her generation with greater skill, or with superior mastery of her elected idiom.
Christopher Ballantine, International Record Review
Thomas, a prodigious talent, is the most accessible ambassador of the new modernism, and the piece, a fierce and jagged take on the love poetry of Sappho, Neruda, and Flaubert, among others, shines with passion and color.
Russell Platt, The New Yorker