6. Interlude

Does this approach answer the general, introductory questions that were posed in relation to meaning and communication? If the audience needs to be given a context or a translation in order to appreciate a piece of music, does this not undermine the idea that the communicative power of the music is sufficient in and of itself? Similarly, if the piece is performed without any contextual information such as a translation or programme note, what (if anything) can the audience be expected to gain, other than perhaps a generalised sense of emotion?


When considering how other composers have approached similar issues, it is apparent that the decision to use an untranslated text is often the most practical answer to a specific question or circumstance. For example, British composer Stef Conner has described her use of Old English texts as a form of practice-based research into Old English poetry.1 Examples include compositions such as Hord Songs, from 2012.2 In contrast, Gavin Bryars’ use of Old Norse poetry in From Egil’s Saga, from 2004, was intended for a specific singer from the Faroe Islands who had an affinity with the Old Norse language.3 Similarly, Tarik O’Regan’s use of untranslated Middle Irish in works such as The Spring (2008) and Accalam na Senórach (2012) had particular relevance for the National Chamber Choir of Ireland, who performed them.4 Kaija Saariaho’s use of the Occitan language in works such as Lonh (2005) and L’amour de loin (2000) is a reference to the world of the Troubadours.5 Jonathan Harvey’s opera Wagner Dream (2006) was translated into the ancient Pali language ‘to enhance and clarify the cultural dialogue which is the centrepiece of [the] opera’.6 Natasha Barrett’s use of untranslated Old Norse poetry in her electroacoustic work ...The Fetters of a Dream... draws attention to a sense of place in relation to Norwegian Radio, who commissioned the work.7 


What, then, is the relevance of Old English in We Are Apart; Our Song Together? Admittedly, my decision to focus on early medieval text stemmed from my interest in language and my subsequent undergraduate degree in this area. However, as my creative practice developed, I became increasingly aware of the layers of meaning that are evident when such texts are used in musical composition. The work of composer Chaya Czernowin was of particular interest to me in this respect. In her opera Pnima…Ins Innere, composed between 1998 and 1999, the text consisted of wordless vocalisation.8 Although there were only two characters on stage, Czernowin used specific groups of instruments and singers to portray the two characters. She described how this was done in order to examine plural, sometimes opposed, voices that exist within a single voice, and ‘to enact the processes underneath the character’s mental states’.9 Czernowin's musical treatment of multilayered, multiple identities within a single voice finds parallels with my approach to the complex, inner voices of the narrator in Wulf and Eadwacer. The idea of using the sound of a single voice to explore the fluid, ambiguous relationships between emotion, memory, landscape, and character implied possibilities rich in creative potential. As my research questions began to crystallise around the layers of meaning and multiple voices within the Old English poem, my investigation focused increasingly on electroacoustic materials. The subsequent stage of the investigation led to a new, longer work for electroacoustic fixed media (tape), which eventually became Ungelīc is Ūs.

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