for mezzo-soprano, piano, electronics (2021)


to Lucy Goddard and Siwan Rhys

Text: from Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain, used by kind permission of Canongate Books via PLSClear

Plain Air is a musical response to one of the most extraordinary and celebrated works of nature writing in English, The Living Mountain, a lyrical, visionary text by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd detailing her experiences walking in the Cairngorms.

Rooted in her precise observation and appreciation of the natural world of the mountains – its weathers, terrains, animals, birds, plants – Shepherd explores her every sensation as she traverses the landscape – how the light falls on a particular loch, the feel of different textures of plants or cold water against her legs, the sounds of birds and wind. By the close of the book she has identified herself completely within the mountain world:

I have walked out of the body and into the mountain. I am a manifestation of its total life, as is the starry saxifrage or the white-winged ptarmigan.

Plain Air places Shepherd’s stunning, crystalline prose within an expansive and elemental musical landscape. Piano and electronic tones are used to create a mountainous emptiness of slowly-evolving microtonal harmony. The vocalist takes on the persona of Shepherd, alternating simple recitations where the text is clearly audible with passages of wordless singing, beginning with vocalised breathing and ending in an ecstatic ululation.

For more information, see the post Walking with Nan Shepherd

f.p. Lucy Goddard (mezzo), Siwan Rhys (piano), Musicon, Concert Room, Durham University Music Department, 22 June 2022

Listen to a section of the work