• Cheryl Frances-Hoad
  • One Life Stand (2011)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • Ms/pf
  • 25 min

Programme Note

Commissioned by the 2011 Cambridge Summer Music Festival, premiered by Jennifer Johnston and Joseph Middleton on 20th July at Little St. Mary's Church, Cambridge.

The idea for One Life Stand originated from a discussion over lunch in Cambridge with my friend Jennifer Johnston. She was bemoaning the fact that, although she loved to sing Schumann’s Frauen-Liebe und Leben (Women’s Lives and Loves), and was always being asked to do so, she found Chamisso’s words rather outdated and suggested I write an updated version. I jumped at the chance, and by pudding we were already thinking about whose poetry I might set.

A few weeks later, during a meeting with Chris Gribble, (Chief Executive of Writers’ Centre Norwich) he told us that the crime writer and poet Sophie Hannah had recently moved to Cambridge and had many suitable poems. It wasn’t long before we all met up for lunch and began discussing the contenders for a series of poems that might portray a modern woman’s life and loves. To begin with I had a list of about twenty-five poems that I would have liked to set, taken from four of Sophie’s poetry collections (The Hero and the Girl Next Door (1995), Hotels like Houses (1996), First of the Last Chances (2003) and Pessimism for Beginners (2007: all published by Carcanet Press), but the finnal eight in my view come together to form a narrative that is clear yet open to interpretation, and contains the whole gamut of complex emotions (both serious and humorous) that made the poems such a dream to set to music.

Although the idea for the work originated as a reaction to Chamisso’s poetry, in the course of composing the cycle I found much inspiration from Schumann’s song cycle, and many of the songs in my work are based very closely on either the harmony and/or the motivic material of what in my view is the “corresponding” song in Frauen-Liebe und Leben. In particular it has been Schumann’s very varied (but always totally appropriate) use of piano textures that has been most inspiring, and the way that he treats the relationship between the voice and piano fascinates me: at times the voice is very independent from the piano, whereas at other points the piano doubles long phrases of the vocal line. However, when the latter occurs there are frequently very subtle differences between the doubled melodic lines: a resolution of a suspension may occur a quaver earlier in the piano than in the voice for instance, and the tension and dissonance these small moments create seem to me to perfectly describe the yearning quality of the poems that this musical device features in. One of the wonderful things about writing a new composition that is a companion piece to a great work is that you get to know the original work from the “inside out” as it were, and it is often the subtlest nuances of texture and harmony that become most important inspiration.

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2011