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Songs of Awe and Wonder A Symphonic Song Cycle by Andrew Webb-Mitchell Words by Joanna Boulter
“....a remarkable and important work, this is passionate music on a grand scale – a modern day “Song of the Earth.”
John Lenehan, pianist
An Introductory Guide
Songs of Awe and Wonder is a symphonic song cycle in nine movements for soprano, tenor and orchestra. The music is written in a direct and lyrical musical language – contemporary in style yet filled with references to the past. It is a powerful and emotional piece, striking in its simplicity yet rich in raw emotion. Each of the movements addresses the general theme of inspiration in many connotations.
The first movement, The Artist’s Wife, is written in sonata form and was inspired by a painting by the Viennese expressionist artist, Egon Schiele of his wife, Edith. It is an unusual painting and is quite unlike any of his other works; the tenderness and sensuality of this portrait contrasts starkly with much of his other work, raising the question of how his subject must have influenced both the man and the creative artist. The text for The Artist’s Wife examines this act of creation from this woman’s viewpoint – questioning her role as muse to the artist and her longing to be accepted and valued as a real woman, rather than merely an object of physical beauty. In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe reached Vienna. Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on 28 October. Schiele died only three days after his wife. He was 28 years old. During the three days between their deaths, Schiele drew a few sketches of Edith; these were his last works.
Songs of Awe and Wonder
"Am I real in your eyes, or am I just a muse, creation of your art, and nothing myself?"
Kites Over Malvern pays tribute to the English composer Edward Elgar, depicting him pursuing his passion for flying kites over the Malvern Hills. As he stands on the hillside, the kites are reeling in the cosmic symphony that he feels all around. He watches the kites soaring skywards and
holds himself in readiness to transcribe this enigmatic artistry. One of the pre-eminent musical figures of his time, Elgar bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the finest English composer since the days of Handel and
Purcell. Elgar's most fruitful period was the first decade of the twentieth century, during which he wrote some of his noblest, most expressive music, including the Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 (1907-1908), and the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1909-1910). Kites Over Malvern offers a glimpse of the man in his earlier years before public recognition, drawing inspiration from his love of the open countryside and consolation for his artistic isolation. All views of the Newcastle riverside are dominated by the seven famous bridges across the Tyne, which link the city to Gateshead on the south bank of the river. Bridges not only reflects this spectacular imagery but also the significance of the bridges to the people that live there; they witness and inspire the changing landscape of a developing city. The Quayside was once an industrial area and a busy commercial dockside. However
during more recent times, the docks had become extremely run-down as industry in the North East fell into dramatic decline. The Quayside has since been heavily redeveloped to provide a modern environment for the modern arts, music and culture, as well as new housing developments. The bridges have played a key role in this process of renewal In a wider sense, Bridges examines the symbolic significance of bridges to humanity, promoting the co-existence and unification of communities. The Ascent of Gailly examines the inspiration which compels human fortitude to great feats of endurance, and is based on the story of Etienne Gailly, the Belgian marathon runner who only just failed to win the marathon in the 1948 London Olympics. Gailly had never run a marathon before, but traded the lead with more established names throughout the first 26 miles. Despite underestimating the dehydrating effect of
Songs of Awe and Wonder
the severe and unusual heat and humidity, he beat back challenges on two occasions and for some time it looked as if a big surprise was in the making. He entered the stadium first, shortly ahead of Argentina's Delfo Cabrera and Britain's Thomas Richards. Gailly had barely a lap of the track to complete, but the crowd could see his legs wobbling and his path wavering to and fro. Groans rang out around the stadium as he dried up to a walk and was overtaken by Cabrera and Richards. In a shocking reminiscence of Pietro Dorado collapsing within view of the tape 40 years earlier (the last time the Games had been held in London), Gailly fell to his knees on the home straight. But, to a standing ovation, he straightened up and staggered over the finishing line for a bronze.
"Stars burst forth with bright display, planets gleam for guidance, constellations arch above us"
The text for The Inspiration of Night takes us back to the dawn of time suggesting the awe and wonder of primitive man as he gazed towards the heavens, referring particularly to a bronzeage artefact, the Nebra Sky Disc; an amazing and beautiful example of early humanity's craftsmanship and skill in astronomy. The disc was found in a cache of bronze goods, including axes and daggers, in a Bronze Age site at the top of a mountain, the Mittelberg. It is thought that the site would originally have had a good view of the skies and the horizon all around, and might have been used as an observatory. The astronomical information on the disc is particular to the latitude of the location where it was found, so it is likely that the disc was made for and used in the site where it was finally hidden.
"Inspiration fires us flame of hearts and minds like a beacon here at the borders where our journey begins."
"The core of these lyrics is their sheer, stark elegiac power reminding me of how I felt the first time I heard Rilkeâ€™s Duino Elegies.â€? Award-winning British poet, critic and ecologist, David Morley
Kites Over Malvern
Soprano and Tenor Duet
"The string is taut and I'm reeling in my heart strings to the harmony, the soul of universal sound; the kites are reeling in that cosmic symphony that's all around."
"Like characters playing a role in the drama they quietly influence all that they see. They speak of past and of future, imparting their lore."
Songs of Awe and Wonder
The Inspiration of Night
The Ascent of Gailly
"My body gives way; I stumble, am falling, am passed, and passed again. How can I keep on in vain? For my vanishing hopes are melting away to nothing."
"Then souls will stir and wake to skies that encircle the earth with their nightly beauty. Now the pulse of the visiting night still holds our souls enraptured, the cloak of darkness all about us: for we could fear the night yet do not."
Extracts from lyrics by Joanna Boulter www.theenglishcomposer.com
“In Songs of Awe and Wonder, Andrew Webb-Mitchell has created a stunning set of symphonic songs on a grand scale. The music is full of passion and heroism, with glorious harmony and beautiful textures. The orchestration is beautifully detailed and the vocal writing creates a soaring line that carries the listener right through the vast canvas of the cycle. The work is dedicated to Mahler but, although the scale of the work is comparable to a Mahlerian song cycle, the music is in no way derivative and Andrew Webb-Mitchell has his own unique style and sound-world.”
Tasmin Little, OBE
¬ Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra performed the world premiere of The Inspiration of Night in October 2012 at Tianjin Grand Theatre, China. ¬ Songs of Awe and Wonder was recorded in 2011 by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mikel Toms, with Elizabeth Bailey (soprano) and Hui Jin (tenor). ¬ The album was produced by Alexander Van Ingen and mixed by Mike Hatch of Floating Earth, all for First Creative Productions. ¬ Several short films have been produced featuring movements from Songs of Awe and Wonder, including Dances of Life and Death and Kites Over Malvern.
Songs of Awe and Wonder
â€œThere is dream, daring and duende in the poetry of Songs of Awe and Wonder." Award-winning British poet, David Morley
"Soaring vocal lines, sparkling orchestration and direct, vivid storytelling. A great new work.â€? Michael Price, Music editor for the Lord of The Rings Trilogy
Joanna Boulter is a British poet who has published three poetry pamphlets and received several awards from the Arts Council. Her lifelong interest in music as well as words led to her first full-length poetry collection, Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dmitri Shostakovich (Arc Publications), which was shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize in 2007. She is a Hawthornden Fellow, and has received a Tyrone Guthrie Fellowship and a Northern Promise Award, from Northern Arts and New Writing North respectively. Joanna read English, Latin and Music at the University of London, and later gained a distinction at MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University.
Dreams of Flight Soprano and Tenor Duet Dreams of Flight is set in Kitty Hawk on a cold December morning in 1903. The Wright brothers are hard at work with final preparations to make the worldâ€™s first controlled powered flight. They briefly reflect on the immensity of the task they face but are now willing to throw caution to the wind. As they start the engine, the propellers begin to rotate; movement begins to wake in The Flyer, longing for wind in its wings. The first flight was made by Orville and lasted only 12 seconds, during which the airplane flew 120 feet. That same day, however, on its fourth flight, with Wilbur at the controls, the plane stayed in the air for 59 seconds and traveled 852 feet before a severe gust of wind severely damaged the craft. Page 10
Dances of Life and Death Soprano Solo An intimate portrait of Anna Pavlova as she prepares for the role in which she became most closely associated. While touring in The Hague, Netherlands, Pavlova was told that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." She died of pleurisy, three weeks short of her 50th birthday. She was holding her costume from The Dying Swan when she spoke her last words, "Play the last measure softly."
Songs of Awe and Wonder
Drinking Alone Under the Moon
My first view - a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves. Charles Walker, Astronaut
A poet raises his glass and invites the moon to drink with him and in turn the moon shines upon him casting his shadow. These three friends then spend their evening together; as the poet sings his song, the moon sails across the sky. As the poet dances, the shadow dances with him. Finally at the end of the evening the three friends part, hoping to meet again one day on the far reaches of the milky way. After Li Bai
Soprano and Tenor Duet
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Andrew Webb-Mitchell has had a long and distinguished career in music education, holding positions in Kuwait and Taiwan before leading music departments in several schools in the United Kingdom. As Director of Music at Newcastle Church High, one of England's leading private schools, he led his choir in a series of successful tours of Europe, performing in Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Florence and Rome. In 2005 his choir performed during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. During this time he was also responsible for stage performances of Bernstein's fiendish musical, On The Town and Gershwin's chamber opera, Blue Monday. In 2008
he was appointed Director of Music and Performing Arts at the British School of Beijing and in 2010 became founding Headmaster of King's College Beijing. He is currently Composer-In-Residence for The British Schools Foundation. As a composer, Webb-Mitchell's orchestral song cycle, Songs of Awe and Wonder was recorded by the Brno Philharmonic in 2011, his professional recording debut. His orchestral song The Inspiration of Night was premiered at the Tianjin Grand Theatre in October 2012 by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra.
MUSIC © ANDREW WEBB-MITCHELL 2012 LYRICS © JOANNA BOULTER 2012 © 2012 THE COPYRIGHT OF THESE PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS AND THIS SOUND RECORDING IS OWNED BY ANDREW WEBB-MITCHELL. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
An orchestral song cycle. Music by Andrew Webb-Mitchell. Words by Joanna Boulter.