• Benedict Mason
  • Self-Referential Songs and Realistic Virelais (1990)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Alte Oper, Frankfurt for the 10th Anniversary of the Ensemble Modern

  • 1111/2110/2perc/2kbd/str(
  • soprano
  • 17 min

Programme Note


»Self-reference is ubiquitous« writes Douglas R. Hofstadter »many
systems have the capabilityto represent or refer to themselves. . . within
the system of their own symbolism«. Late 14th century realistic virelais
used the vivid imagery of the hunt or battle, with the music imitating bird-
song, or fanfares and so on.

Does text matter? - is it simply a peg to hang things on?

How much are words »audible«?
Is their meaning and reception affected by the musical setting? .
In these self-referential songs the text is deliberately (and sometimes iro-
nically) related to what is going on in the music. Although this documen-
tary and pseudo-documentary choice of words is a way of avoiding the
poetic, because of the reverse word-painting in the music the documen-
tary words reassume a poetic context.

And anyway real documentary in music doesn't work-witness the bizarre
gramophone recording of a nightingale in Respighi's 'Pines of Rome'.

1. The bio acoustics of orthoptera vividly portrayed in the music. The
words discuss the anatomy of the acoustical systems involved.

2. Imaginary Ethnomusicology

3. The singer sings a programme note on the instrumental texture occa-
sionally alluding to the language of critics in music reviews, though
maybe the composer is also being self critical.

4. AJoyceian celebration of ubiquitous instruments, but with a more anti-
poetic word setting, and more reference to the way they are always
depicted in music.

5. Onomatopoeia in both the instrumental music and the text.

6. More onomatopoeia and questions of harmony.

7. A real realistic virelai, so self-referential that it becomes a pastiche and
parody of the older model. The text in old French refers to the very act
of writing music down and is full of cross-channel puns (i.e. French-
English puns), and other word-play.

Benedict Mason

(Auf Wunsch des Komponisten geben wir diesen Einfuhrungstext
sowie die Texte der Songs und Virelais ausschlieBlich in der Original- ~
sprache wieder.)