2(I+II=picc).2.2(II=Ebcl).2 - 2000 - perc(2): vib/t.bells/3 tgl/mcas/SD/BD - pno - strings (18.104.22.168.2)
Score and parts for hire
The Bird Sings with its Fingers was commissioned by the Sinfonia 21 and the Mark Baldwin Dance Company, with funds from the Jerwood Foundation. The main inspiration behind this piece was the sequence of phrases mysteriously announced on a car radio throughout Jean Cocteau’s film Orphée, a modern telling of the Orpheus myth. Generally bizarre, almost surreal in character, they appear initially to have no relationship to the main plot, but as the film progresses they increasingly employ images borrowed from the story, and eventually they overtake the action: the last radio message (‘Jupiter enlightens those he wishes to abandon’) announces the imminent death of Orpheus himself. Each movement in The Bird Sings has as its title one of the radio messages – I have used them as the starting point for the music’s shapes, colours and moods. However, while this is abstract music, composed as a set of concert studies to show off the virtuosity and musicality of Sinfonia 21, it was also written for a balletic collaboration with the choreographer Mark Baldwin: hence the subtitle: ‘Four Choreographic Studies’.
1) The world is illuminated by a single glass of water. A single melodic line descends three times through the whole orchestra, providing all the harmony as it goes.
2) The bird sings with its fingers. A scherzo with trio. The scherzo is high, fast and brightly coloured, with numerous superimposed agile and bird-like melodies. The trio features a ghostly chorale as a background to a variety of brittle plucked and struck sounds.
3) Mirrors would do well to reflect again. A sequence of harmonic and rhythmic images are perpetually transformed as if reflected by increasingly distorted mirrors.
4) Jupiter warns those he wishes to abandon. Three linked sections: a jerky three part canon doubled in octaves throughout; a harsh chorale, also doubled in multiple octaves; and lastly a kaleidoscope of the whole work, in which fragments of all movements are combined for the first time. As these fragments combine the music moves towards some kind of harmonic resolution, but breaks off before fully reaching it.
I am extremely grateful to the choreographer Mark Baldwin, who has prepared the ballet version with meticulous care and real brilliance. I am also grateful to Oliver Rivers, Chief Executive of Sinfonia 21, who has supported the entire project from its inception. The Bird Sings with its Fingers is dedicated to them both.