for SSAATTBB soli (2008-9)


I Quae est ista
II Ego flos campi
III Ficus protulit
IV Hortus conclusus
V Veni in hortum meum
VI Dilectus meus
VII Descendi
VIII Donec aspiret dies

Text: Song of Songs (Latin)

Commissioned by EXAUDI

Individual works f.p. EXAUDI, Salisbury Festival, 28th May 2008 (Descendi); Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 23rd November 2008 (Hortus conclusus); Bangor New Music Festival, 18th March 2009 (Quae est ista); Britten Studio, Snape, 10th May 2009 (Veni in hortum meum). First complete performance Great Hall, Dartington, 9th August 2009.

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Mala punica is series of eight pieces based on the biblical Song of Songs, focusing on the vegetable and horticultural imagery of the poem. Like many of my recent works this series is focused on ‘elemental’ or fundamental materials and processes, each piece being a canon or group of canons, and built from simple or restricted melodic elements. I was particularly interested in the conjunction of the lushly erotic texts (a temptation but also a potential pitfall for the composer) and the technical rigour demanded by the canonic forms: as if the sensuality of the textual material required the system to bind it. Equally I was concerned that the musical material – the melodic lines which were to be subjected to canonic treatment – should be open and broadly modal, so that the resultant music would exist in a tension between the open, ‘natural’ consonance of each line and the often highly intense dissonances generated by placing them in strict canons. Each piece takes an image from the text as the basis for its structure: for example, the rising plume of smoke in Quae est ista is translated into coils of canonic lines tracing upward spirals; Ficus protulit and Descendi use the image of burgeoning nature as the basis for textures of increasingly dense polyphony: flowers waving in a gentle breeze give the oscillating figures of Ego flos campi and Hortus conclusus. Hortus conclusus, a complex texture comprised of three layered canonic systems, stands at the centre of the cycle as an emblem of the whole: I imagine Mala punica itself as my own ‘enclosed garden’ of eight somewhat exotic plants.

Recorded by EXAUDI on Winter&Winter (2017)