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Four Songs on Poems of Seamus Heaney was composed in 2012 for three ensembles: Ensemble Périphérie (in Iowa), Magnetic South (in Charleston, South Carolina), and Ensemble Mise-en (in New York). The four poems are taken from several collections of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, and although they are not ostensibly related to each other, in my mind, I constructed a scenario linking them. (Eventually, I filled out this scenario with instrumental movements, forming the seven-movement work, Ancient Scenes.)
I related the various songs to the growth and development of an imagined ancient town by the sea. The first, simply entitled Lightenings iv, takes as its point of departure the roar of a crowd echoing through an ancient coliseum. The second, The Rain Stick, describes (in very accurate detail) a most intriguing percussion instrument, and is set to a dance that might have provided entertainment in an ancient forum. The third song (Lightenings i) reflects on the frailty of the human condition and the fleeting nature of life; the last (Settings xxiv) is a beautiful panorama of a still harbor shimmering in the light.
The Rain Stick, from Spirit Level
Lightenings i, iv, and Settings xxiv, from Seeing Things
Used with permission of Faber and Faber, London.