The Sail of a Flame

for mezzo-soprano and orchestra

Emma-Ruth Richards

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for mezzo-soprano and orchestra

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Composer Emma-Ruth Richards
Year of Composition 2019
Duration ca.26'
Forces v-m-sop, fl/picc, fl/picc/bfl, 2ob, cl, cl/e-cl/bcl, bsn, bsn/cbsn, 4hn, 2tpt, 2tbn, btbn, 2perc, hp, pf, strings (14, 12, 10, 10, 8)
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-err1soaf1


British writer Robert Macfarlane, most loved for his celebration of landscapes and language, refers to himself as ‘north­minded’. In Landmarks he writes that “northerliness is a mode of perception as well as a geographical position. [ · · ·] In certain regions of the far north, where the dust content of the atmosphere is close to zero, light is able to move unscattered through the air. [ · · ·] Distance enables miracles of scrutiny [and] remoteness is a medium of clarification.”

The texts for this song cycle (all by Scottish writers, or writers connected to Scotland) echo this sense of ‘northerliness’ that Macfarlane describes and create a journey through these intimate landscapes and encounters. “The north represents not a retreat to an imagined distance, but rather a means of seeing more clearly [ · · ·] Looking from afar – from past to present, from exile to homeland, from island back at mainland, mountain-top down at lowland – results not in vision’s diffusion but in its sharpening; not in memory’s dispersal but in its plenishment.” (Macfarlane, Landmarks)

This cycle begins with a powerful and wild ‘burst of vision’ with Kei Miller’s first Light Song of Light. The second and third texts, from Don Paterson’s Rain and Landing Light respectively, explore lyricism as a function of precision and the attraction to the crystalline image; the sharpness of the morning frost has cleared the air into a magnifying glass and surfaces of glass, mirror, air, nerve and stone are carved out by the orchestral accompaniment. Song four acts as a pair of binoculars focussing on the very soul of the mind and Jackie Kay’s Pencil, Knife creates a point of no return within the cycle. Such exactness of sight brings forth the hushed revelation of grief and shivers of longing with Carol Ann Duffy’s Anne Hathaway, with the soloist completely exposed, song five is an invitation into the most intimate of places where terrain and mind stand revealed. Robin Robertson’s Trysts then offers the closing landscape where we exist in-between day and night and where eventually the elegies of twilight mellow the loss of violence and time.

Beauty known, beauty lost, beauty forgotten.


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