fretted sounding boards

for mezzo-soprano and piano

Silvina Milstein

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for mezzo-soprano and piano

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Composer Silvina Milstein
Year of Composition 2015
Duration 10'30"
ISMN 9790570681778



Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-sm1fsb1


Commissioned by the Centre for Modern Literature and Culture of King’s College London.

First performance: Angelica Cathariou (mezzo soprano) / Dominic Saunders (piano), Arts & Humanities Festival 2015: Strung with Poets’ Sinews, The Chapel, King’s College London, 16 October 2015

Fretted sounding-boards is a setting of John Fuller’s prose-poem entitled ‘A brief History of the Piano’.

How was I to sing about the piano music of great composers, whose worlds have indelibly extended the texture of my sensitivity, without mimicking their voices? John Fuller wrote to me that in his poem:

the historical dimension is neither sharply insisted upon, nor, I think, particularly traceable in either individual composers or schools of composers. But I did want to use the celebrated descriptions in the calibration of Torricelli’s barometer to trace some aspects of the developments of pianistic style. They seemed so suggestive! I ended up deciding to leave it to the interpretations of individual readers—which is Clementi, which is John Field, is that Liszt in there, and so on.

My setting is definitely in the present tense. Not wishing to engage with the vulgarities of pastiche composition, instead I surrendered to what Borges refers to as the ‘pleasure in the words, and of course the lilt in the words, that is to say the music of the words’. Thus I was largely carried by words, rhythms, sensuous imagery and a unique poetic form that aroused in a contemporary poet’s musings on those distant musical worlds, rather than directly by the historical musical types themselves. The music of the past provides a sort of unheard counterpoint to my music. So perhaps in my setting three layers of music coexist the same time: the music recalled, that of John Fuller’s words, and my music.

Each of the five sections is introduced by a vocalise anticipating certain richly sonorous words of the ensuing paragraph (such as Josiah-blue, melody, green, gold, vent, pluie …), a sort of magical spell conjuring a mood, that eventually finds confirmation in the barometer reading as each paragraph of the prose-poem comes to life.