“On a Night” for alto solo and unaccompanied choir

The idea of a wide ‘harmonic canvas’ placed within a choral environment sparked the creation of On a Night. The piece was written with the intent to display a variety of harmonic colours in conjunction with a poetic narrative.
The work’s structure was inspired by the slow, thick orchestral settings of diatonic harmony, often exhibited in works by Debussy, Ravel and (early) Scriabin. The text is adapted from the final stanza of the poem Meditation Denying Everything, written by Katie Peterson. The poem illustrates the idea of longing for love and affection. Upon reflection of the poet herself; “even if you renounce the possibility of love– you end up looking for it.”

A voice in the next room goes to sleep.
Sleep [It] moves in the branches of the oak
become a rootless mass
unsung by skeleton or name or height.
My friend who says
she does not believe in Paradise
[she] believes in rest: I believe that,
(or more likely) I like to think of her,
the way she held my name (in her small mouth),
as she held her own name. I like to think of anyone
who on a night like this
would reach towards my ribcage
and trace it delicately and walk away.

The work begins with a slow, peaceful chant, which seems to wander freely. The chant is influenced by Southern African traditional music, with specific reference to the folk song “Ukuthula”, meaning “peace”. This expands into a deep, slow-moving accompaniment. The dark colours expressed in the male voices search for their conterparts: female voices, adding richness to the vertical sound. The work’s use of different time signatures is suggestive of the ebb and flow of emotions described in the poem. This intensifies until a final large point of arrival is reached, after which male voices return with the same deep, slow-moving accompaniment. This, together with the peaceful solo alto voice, forms part of the works arch-form assembly.

Finally, the dark, warm sound of the choir brings the piece to a close.

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