Time Unredeemed

for female voice and piano

first performed at The Judith Wright Project, Sydney Conservatorium of Music 21st September 2010
by Anna Yun and Jack Symonds

AUDIO (complete)


The four songs of this cycle each represent a ‘glimpse’ of the four long poems that make up T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In choosing the fragments, I have tried to trace a drastically shortened, synecdochical path through the poet’s masterwork from his vision of terrifying endlessness in Burnt Norton through to the purgatorial fires of possible redemption in Little Gidding.

In the first song, Eliot’s Augustinian conception of the unity of past, present and future finds a musical counterpart in the three layers of palindromic piano writing, each moving at different speeds and with different ‘characters’. The vocal line acts as a cantus firmus to many of the melodic figures, finding and sustaining single pitches or ides like an anchor in the slipstream of polyrhythms. The second song deals with the loneliness at the heart of an individual’s sense of time and begins with a long, winding fugue as spacious as the first song was compact. The entrance of the voice breaks the cycling of the fugal texture and forces the piano to conflate its previous linear melodies into a series of thick, soft chords. This process is repeated for three stanzas, with the fugue interpolations becoming extremely compressed and the vocal line ever more passionate before the song freezes over once more, quietly waiting for the end. The third song is a hellish vision of the cacophony of time’s decay with violent piano textures and fevered exhortations from the voice throwing up material from the previous songs to be decimated. The central section of this ternary song sees rigid patterns gradually become floridly animated into the final crazed, ecstatic ‘prayer’. The final song is a slow procession of many of the main ideas from the previous songs, each melting into silence underneath the implacable rising scales of the voice’s tentative hope for redemption.

The cycle is dedicated to its first interpreter, Anna Yun, whose amazing range, expressive capabilities and virtuosity meant I could write whatever I wanted.

Text © Faber & Faber