Sometime Voices


baritone solo, SATB chorus and orchestra
Shakespeare W (Text)
Chorus with Orchestra/Ensemble
William Shakespeare
3(all=picc.III=afl).3.3(III in A=bcl).2.cbsn - 4.3(I=ptpt).3.1 - timp - perc(4): 3 xyl/timp/tam-t/2 BD/3 glsp - cel - 2 harp - mandolin - banjo - strings

Commissioned by for the opening concerts of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester by the Halle Orchestra with funds from the Arts Council of England and Royal Mail

First Performance
11.9.1996, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK: William Dazeley/Hallé Orchestra and Choir/Kent Nagano

Full score 0-571-51980-6 and vocal score 0-571-52050-2 (fp) on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

This short work explores Caliban’s famous speech in Act 3 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in which he describes a magical music pervading the island on which he lives: Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices, That if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again. The savage Caliban sings fiercely in long, melismatic phrases. Around him the orchestra drifts between an eerie tranquillity and mercurial activity, almost permanently pianissimo. I imagined that this music was happening, as in a dream, within Caliban’s mind, although its capricious behaviour is beyond his control. Sometimes quiet and beguiling, at turns more sinister, the chorus, acting as spirits, chant only one word during the piece – Caliban’s name. Suddenly, towards the end, all instrumental and vocal forces erupt in a sustained and colossal tutti. This cuts off abruptly, revealing Caliban bewildered and stunned at the end of his vision. At all times I wanted to achieve an extreme clarity of texture and deep integration between the baritone line and its harmonic environment. As a consequence of this, the harmonic core is consonant and transparent; this, in turn, breeds a wide variety of other harmonic strands and materials as it progresses. The large orchestra employs a quartet of plucked instruments - banjo, mandolin and two harps - and a trio of xylophones (playing super-fast tremolos with side-drum sticks), though these unusual timbres are used sparingly. Sometime Voices was commissioned for the Hallé Orchestra to open the inaugural concert at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in September 1996, and is dedicated to the conductor of its premiere Kent Nagano.

© George Benjamin

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