Commissioned by Jonathan Radford and the Royal Over-Seas League

  • sx/pf
  • 6 min

Programme Note

Algernon is loosely inspired by both Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and The Voices Within, a popular science book by Charles Fernyhough about ‘the history and science of how we talk to ourselves’. I was fascinated by Fernyhough's description of the development of inner speech from infancy to young adulthood, from social dialogue with others, through private speech (talking to oneself), to inner speech and inner dialogic speech (where we are able to have complex discussions and debates with ourselves without uttering an audible word). The case studies and scientific research detailed in the book gave me many ideas for the melodic and motivic material of this five-minute work for alto saxophone and piano.

At the time of writing I had just reread Keyes' science-fiction classic, in which Algernon, a laboratory mouse, undergoes surgery to dramatically increase his intelligence (before Charlie Gordon, the first human involved in the experiment, undergoes the same operation). The arc of the novel (where both man and mouse become geniuses, before their heightened intelligence deteriorates) influences the structural and emotional shape of this piece.

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad 2019