• Judith Weir
  • Songs from the Exotic (1987)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

A clarinet obbligato part to this piece by Michael Finnissy is also available
Michael Finnissy

  • pf
  • cl/pf
  • Low Voice
  • 10 min

Programme Note

These four songs were inspired by the vernacular traditions of Serbia, Spain and Scotland. In each case the text comes from a folksong source, but the music is entirely invented.

1. Sevdalino, my little one (Serbian folksong)
2. In the lovely village of Nevesinje (from a Serbian epic)
3. The Romance of Count Arnaldos (Annonymos 15-16th century Spanish song)
4. The Song of a girl ravished away by the fairies in South Uist (Scottish-Gaelic folksong)

SONGS FROM THE EXOTIC was written for the eminent English new music singer Josephine Nendick who gave a series of farewell recitals in 1987 before settling in France. She was accompanied by the composer/pianist Michael Finnissy, who has been a huge influence on my own work. 'Songs from the Exotic' is a set of four simple songs which have odd corners; all of them use folk or anonymous texts. "Sevdalino, my little one' is a Serbian lyric; I was thinking of the sound that voluminous Russian or Bulgarian contraltos make in opera, colliding with this rather strange story about a man who cannot afford to buy a pair of trousers. 'In the lovely village of Nevesinje' comes from a much longer Serbian epic. I was intrigued by the way that the violent confrontations of the story are carried on by letter - and by the John Wayne-like literary gesture which concludes this extract: "He reached for his inkwell, and wrote the Bey an answer". 'The Romance of Count Arnaldos' is the only song sung in its original language, and is a much more 'literary' text than others, with its spectral story which has echoes of the legend of the Flying Dutchman. 'The Song of a Girl Ravished Away by the Fairies in South Uist' quotes a Gaelic song, much altered in this version, whose title is 'A ghaoil lig dhachaigh gu m'mathair mi'.

A literal translation of the third song, The Romance of Count Arnaldos, (sung in Spanish)

Who could have had such good fortune on the waters of the sea
As had Count Arnaldos on the morning of St. John's Day!
With a falcon on his fist he was going out hunting
When he saw a galley approaching trying to make land.

Its sails were of silk and its shrouds were of fine crepe
And the sailor who commanded it came singing a song
Which made the sea calm and made the winds die down
Which made the fish that swim in the deep rise to the surface
And the birds that fly past perch on the mast.

Then Count Arnaldos spoke, indeed, you shall hear what he said:
'I beg you in God's name, sailor, tell me now this song of Yours.'
The sailor answered him and this is the answer he gave:
'I only tell this song to those who come with me.'

© Judith Weir


Songs from the Exotic: No. 1, Sevdalino, My Little One
Songs from the Exotic: No. 2, In the Lovely Village of Nevesinje
Songs from the Exotic: No. 3, The Romance of Count Arnaldos
Songs from the Exotic: No. 4, The Song of a Girl Ravished away by the Fairies in South Uist