The world premiere took place on June 5, 2015 at Royal Academy of Music, London performed by Gina Poli.

  • pf
  • Piano
  • 6 min

Programme Note

The Sestina is a fixed verse poetic form dating from the 12th century, supposedly invented by a French troubadour named Arnaut Daniel, but which quickly spilled into Italian with Dante. It has a fascinating, very strict structure, consisting principally of six stanzas of six lines each. The form furthermore requires that the six line-ending words of the first stanza be re-used as end-words in each of the following stanzas in specific places, determined by an algorithm (see picture below). I came upon the Sestina in the early days of composing this piece, at which time I was only in possession of a handful of musical “ objects”, and it seemed to resonate with a number of things: the Franco-Italian nationality of its dedicatee Gina Poli, and the plan I had of using my basic objects in a similar manner to that of the Sestina's six basic words.

I was immediately resolved to write a musical Sestina. I decided on my six "endwords", or end-motifs, a mixture of musical cryptograms on Gina's first and last names, their inversions, and two more originating from the piece's main melodic material, a Hungarian folk song found in Kodaly's 7 pieces Op 11. This, incidentally, was to be my loose connection with Gina's otherwise all-Hungarian programme. I then set off freely into the composition, having planned out the piece’s entire geography in relation to the six motifs. The piece unfolds over three main sections, book-ended by an introduction and a short coda. There are mainly two contrasting types of music, one dreamy and legato with melody over a moving accompaniment, the other chordal and pointillistic. The Hungarian tune is found throughout at both micro and macro levels, and over the course of the piece the six end-motifs undergo a variety of transformations, from changing rhythm to altering the order of their individual notes. Finally, I would say the music overall is deliberately sparse and spacious, to contrast with the rest of Gina’s dense and busy programme.




Josephine Stephenson, Sestina


Preview an excerpt of the score