• Clara Iannotta
  • They left us grief-trees wailing at the wall. (2020)
    (for 9 amplified instruments)

  • Henry Litolff’s Verlag GmbH & Co. KG (World)
  • 0.0.1(bcl).0.tsx/perc/pf/egtr/str(
  • 16 min

Programme Note

They left us grief-trees wailing at the wall (2020)
for 9 amplified instruments
Commissioned by Ars Nova, Riot Ensemble, and Wien Modern
World Premiere 1
3 November 2020, Vienna | Riot Ensemble at "Wien Modern"

Like many of Iannotta’s works, They left us grief-trees wailing at the wall takes its title from the Irish poet Dorothy Molloy (1942–2004); in this case her poem ‘Death by poisoning’, about the accidental death of a pet dog. Iannotta discovered Molloy’s poetry of dark domesticity (all of it published after Molloy’s sudden death from liver cancer) in 2013, during a difficult winter living alone in Berlin, and it has been a source of inspiration ever since.

Everyday objects and settings are never far from the centre of Molloy’s poems – indeed, as in her image of ‘dead wasps in the jam-jar’ from the poem ‘Mother’s Kitchen’, itself a line that has inspired a trilogy of compositions by Iannotta, the mundane is often the source for raw emotion. Something similar happens in Iannotta’s music: objects surround and encrust her instruments like barnacles, displacing them from their precisely managed traditional status and into a world that is uniquely raw, scarred and fragile. Polystyrene, paperclips, blu-tac, cardboard boxes, metal sheets, wine glasses, even a vibrator or two – the players of They left us grief-trees use all of these to alter the sound of their instruments, or to make sounds in themselves.

And yet, like Molloy again, Iannotta finds a new kind of mystery in these quotidian objects: forms of buzzing or reverberation, clanging strikes or ringing halos, sounds one never hears otherwise but which fit uncannily well in the ear. The music of They left us grief-trees is dominated by seemingly static bands of sound that on closer attention appear full of life and variety. Like paint brushed in strips across different surfaces, each band reveals a different texture, from the relatively smooth sounds of wine glasses or bowed vibraphone keys, to the more cragged sounds of bowed cardboard or laminated paper vibrating against a saxophone bell. Metal sheets roar throatily; a fork twangs between piano strings. From time to time the horizontal layers are ruptured by sudden convulsions of sound. A giant, sleeping beast, the ensemble snores and twitches, dreaming, elsewhere.

They left us grief-trees wailing at the wall was commissioned by Ars Nova, Riot Ensemble and Wien Modern, and first performed on 13 November 2020 at Wien Modern by Riot Ensemble.

© Tim Rutherford-Johnson