Composer Spotlight: Sadie Harrison talks about her new piece for the first 100 Second Song project

What is the title of your piece for the 'One Hundred Second Songs' project?

'I am in love with every star in all the galaxies'

Can you tell us a little bit about the text you set and what drew you to this particular piece of prose or poetry?

The beautiful line of poetry which is both title and entire text for the song is taken from a lyrical ghazal by the 13th century Persian writer Shaykh Muslih Al-din Sa'di (translated by Bruce Wannell and Robert Maxwell, Persian Poems, 2013). Sa'di believed that the ecstatic response created through listening to music was a legitimate form of religious praise and many of his poems explore the relationship between divine and human expressions of love, often within the context of the natural world. The song is a simple accumulation of trills and tremolos, increasingly ecstatic as the music rises towards the end. 'I am in love..' has a dual dedication. Firstly to Bruce 'Aziz' Wannell who died on 29 January 2020. In his obituary (The Times, 13 February 2020), Bruce was described as 'a free spirit, an outsider, and a man with a deep knowledge of the Islamic world....probably the best translator of 18th century Persian'. Bruce introduced me to a thousand years of extraordinary poetry and my life has been enhanced beyond measure by his unique spirit. Secondly, to my very dear friends Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats whose support has been so constant.

Are there any specific (musical) techniques you have used in order to communicate the text to your audience?

In many respects the text setting is rather traditional - with simple scalic contours and a gradual rise in register towards the end. The voice is embraced by the piano trills at the opening and gradually emerges towards the end, a reference to Bruce's journey to the skies.

Who would you say was your strongest influence musically, and why?

There is no single person, whether composer, performer, friend or relative who has influenced me over and above another. Having composed music for nearly forty years, my influences are just so numerous and happily so. As a young composer, I felt it was very important to find a single voice, allied to a particular 'camp' but nowadays, I am quite delighted to write in any number of voices and visit any number of 'camps'!

Have you ever written short songs before? What are the challenges of writing such a short piece of music?

Yes. I enjoy miniatures in all forms and relish the chance to 'not go on too long'!

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

Yes, I am very lucky to have a few projects on the go. Have just finished a commission for Gemini based on Australian Aboriginal songs and dances as a reaction to the recent catastrophic bush fires; continuing the short song theme I have been asked to write some minature pieces for voice and cello by the superb Australian singer Jenny Duck-Chong for performance in Sydney later this year; and am really enjoying the research for a substantial piano cycle 'Portraits from the place of the yew-trees' for Duncan Honeybourne to be performed in Sheffiled Cathedral in August this year. And if it counts, my main project just now is training for the Moonwalk Marathon in London in May!

Sadie's new One Hundred Second Song will be premiered alongside 34 other new songs in our April concert by Anna Snow and Kate Ledger at the Late Music Festival, York. Join us on 4th April, 6:45pm for a pre-concert talk about the project and 7:30pm for the concert.

Bruce ‘Aziz’ Wannell (left): Afghanistan 1980s)

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