Commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Basque National Orchestra (San Sebastian).

  • 2.1+ca.2(bcl).2(cbn)/433(btbn)1/timp.3perc/[cel]/str
  • SSA chor
  • 20 min
  • Marion Angus, R.L. Stevenson and Anon.

Programme Note

1) Dawn and Twilight
2) The Ghost
3) On Some Ghostly Companions At A Spa
4) Annie Honey
5) The Wee Wee Man
6) All Souls’ Eve

The world of Marion Angus (1865-1946): ghosts, twilight, folk memory, music, mythology and legend. Her poems are direct, often wistful, certainly plangent, and imbued with a gentle, pantheistic mysticism. In setting them, I sought to explore the intersection between waking and sleeping, night and day, nature and super nature. By contrast, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem is a biting critique of fellow guests at a spa (a rhyming ‘hell is other people’!) whilst the anonymous poem (one of Child’s Ballads) tells of a vertically challenged fellow with unpredictable superpowers.

There are four particular elements that colour the piece:
• Like apparitions, melodies in one song appear or reappear in others. For example, the Ghostly Companions tune haunts both The Ghost and The Wee Wee Man whilst a variant of The Ghost’s principle tune inhabits both Ghostly Companions and Annie Honey as a bass line. Similarly, Dawn and Twilight reappears in The Wee Wee Man and forms the harmonic basis for All Souls’ Eve.
• Canons: these become metaphors for shadows, echoes and reflections.
• Major/minor key ambivalences reflect hypnagogia (the in-between state where one is neither fully awake nor fully asleep).
• Fragments of Scottish folk tunes also haunt the score, particularly - and appropriately - ‘Drowsy Maggie’. Writing this piece rekindled my own spectral memories of the many years I spent playing in Scottish country-dance and ceilidh bands!

© Gary Carpenter 2018


Euskadiko Orkestra / Basque National Orchestra performing Ghost Songs in Bilbao in November 2022