Commissioned by The Houston Symphony, Hans Graf, music director, for harpist Paula Page and soprano Twyla Robinson with a generous gift in honor of Shirley and Jay Marks

Alternate parts are used for Mezzo-soprano performances

  • 1+pic+afl.1+ca.1+bcl.1/
  • Soprano[=Mezzo-soprano], Harp
  • 20 min

Programme Note

1. the moon is hiding in her hair
2. who knows if the moon’s a balloon
3. open your heart

Composer note
Lasting for a duration of 22 minutes, the four-movement composition has the following characteristics. First, this work is for a relatively small orchestra, in which there is only one of each wind type: one piccolo, one flute, one alto flute, one oboe, one English horn, and so forth. Second, six players are playing from the very back of the orchestra, arranged in a semi-circle in this order: Perc. 1, Perc. 2, Celesta, Piano (lid off), Perc. 3, Perc. 4. They form a “wall” or “screen” of sound that surrounds the rest of the orchestra, and they often play with the harp obbligato part, as if to take the harp’s music and amplify it, like a spiraling helix, through the orchestra. Third, generally only pitched percussion are used. And finally, the notation is highly detailed and nuanced.

Perfumes of my “grandparents” can be smelled in the music—Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Mahler, Berg, Berio, Brahms, American Jazz, Knussen, and so forth. But it is not “stolen Debussy” or “paraphrased Stravinsky;” rather, it is all personal musical invention.

The wide variety of characters in the piece—graceful, majestic, spacious, spry, jazzy, resonant, elegant, playful, lively, rhythmic, punchy, and lyrical—imply a great deal of color and motion. Everything is an organic outgrowth of something else, and transformation is key.

The closing image of the final poem, “Absolute ocean,” became the title for the entire composition.

—Augusta Read Thomas



Soprano version
Mezzo-soprano version


  • Independent Repertoire: Inspired by American Art and Writing
    • Independent Repertoire: Inspired by American Art and Writing
    • Just as the many composers above been influenced by a range of American musical traditions, so have others drawn potent inspiration from other artistic mediums. The Unite States’ visual art and writing have been particularly influential on several generations of American composers, as represented by the following works.