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Setting of the poem 'Pyramid' by Frances Leviston, for soprano, cello and piano


April 2023

Song of Sustainability

In my setting of Frances Leviston’s arresting poem about urban regeneration and its consequences I have drawn on the idea of sustainability as ‘progress’, recognising that this metaphor is problematic – progress can have its downsides. I have focussed on three striking images in the poem – the landscape of cranes across the city, the pyramid, which I took to reflect both the hierarchy of success and of social exploitation and finally, that of emptiness – the skeleton drinking champagne. The opening section seeks to portray the vertical and horizontal landscape of cranes towering over the city, with music that is tense rather than optimistic, the metallic nature of the cranes emphasised by ’cello harmonics and the laying of a small chain across some of the piano strings. The soprano has vertical leaps while the ’cello provides the horizontal plane. After some hesitancy, ‘progress’ takes over with the protagonist extolling the virtues of selling ‘door to door’ with music that hints at music-hall parody, the accompaniment in perpetual motion – even when she describes the pyramid of success in almost ‘spiritual’ terms. The full flourish of her optimism is followed by collapse – and return to the image of the cityscape, now even bleaker than before, the ’cello speaking in hollow, flattened tones. Will it ever be finished? Will this urban regeneration benefit those who need to live there?

To listen go to Audio Files (SoundCloud) or watch the video of the first performance (Score Videos)

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