Martin Smolka (*1959) Sicut Nix
3 Chants for Choir after Excerpts from H. D. Thoreau and Psalms [ch] 2019/20 Duration: 17' Text: Henry David Thoreau
World premiere: Hamburg, Elbphilharmonie, February 26, 2021
Commissioned by Südwestrundfunk
Dedicated to Marcus Creed
“In Winter Walk, Thoreau describes plenty of snow like I remember from my childhood. I have chosen carefully those words which not only name his observations but evoke them with their sound. I found there groupings of words where “r” is dominating as well as “m” and “n” sounds often. I separated them and repeated, evoking an image of winter morning: “ murmuring morning”, “the roofs under their snow burden”, “the trees rear white arms”. Words made of “l”, “w” and “s” where grouped for an image of silent motionless piece of nature covered with snow: “snow lies, all snow”, “a lurid light in the east” etc. These words were multiplied, moving from voice to voice, rather humming than speaking, communicating more through their timbre than through their sense.
In the 2nd movement the words, half sung, half whispered, are showered still faster while creating clouds of phonemes, mainly the hissing sounds – to evoke whirling of snowflakes in wind: “All the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending, as if some northern Ceres reigned showering her silvery grain over all the fields”. Words are handled like the snowflakes, there are plenty of them whirling and spurting – to paint an image of snow in wind. My beloved snow.
The 3rd (last) movement brings the deeper context. It may be surprising how many times the Bible, among numerous descriptions of the beauties of Creation, has mentioned snow. The Book which seemed to had been written in hot weather somewhere close to deserts, describes it, inter alia, in the Psalm 147: “He gives snow like wool, He scatters the hoarfrost like ashes, He casts forth His ice like morsels, Who can stand before His cold...” The 3rd movement has two versions. The easier just prolongs the snow falling (the just quoted text). The other one, the thanksgiving, is truly difficult for singers. It´s text is about huge spaces: “Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain”, “who covers Thyself with light”, “who makes the clouds His chariot”. Female voices throw their cantilena so high, again and again, as if they attempted to touch the Heaven.”
|1. Murmuring Morning|
|2. Feathery Flakes|
|3. Wings of WInd|
|4. He Gives Snow|