The Far Theatricals of Day (2003)

For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus, Organ and Brass Quintet   20 minutes

In memory of Christopher Whelen, Composer/Conductor (1927-1993)

Like Mighty Foot Lights – burned the Red
At Bases of the Trees –
The Far Theatricals of Day
Exhibiting – to Thee

It is easy to see what attracts composers to the work of Emily Dickinson: often in a  hymn-like metre, her poems look like songs; words of apparent simplicity, sometimes childlike, sometimes profoundly mysterious, that explode with a dramatic, visionary intensity.  Knowing that most of these poems remained hidden until after her death only adds to the composer’s pleasure in giving voice to them now: of the eleven I have set in this cycle, only one was published in her lifetime.

The Far Theatricals of Day begins and ends with a solo soprano singing a child’s words – by all accounts, Emily Dickinson was a funny, original, high-spirited girl, and I hope this cycle conveys something of her extraordinary personality.

The title was offered to me by Dennis Andrews, one of the commissioners of this work.  Although I haven’t set the poem from which it comes, this single line suggested a cycle of songs starting before dawn and ending at midnight, and one which might include an element of theatre in performance.  It seemed an apt shape for a commemorative piece celebrating the life of a fellow-composer.

Text: Poems by Emily Dickinson

Commissioned by The John Armitage Memorial and The Arts Patrons’ Trust in memory of Christopher Whelen, composer/conductor

First performance: 13th March 2003, Claire Seaton, Robert Jones, Ashley Catling, Philip Tebb, Onyx Brass, The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, Benjamin Bayl (Organ), conducted by Nicholas Cleobury, Sounds New Festival at Canterbury Cathedral.