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The poetry of Robert Lowell expresses some of the most important human attitudes towards our time in beautifully moulded verse. Even before th poet suggested that I write music for his translation of Phedre, many years ago, I had been considering setting some of his work.
When the London Sinfonietta commissioned me a few years ago, I decided to write a song-cycle on his verse. In Sleep, In Thunder, a phrase from the poem Dies Irae, for tenor and 14 instruments, is made up of six songs: three primarily about the poet’s personal relationships, and three about his crises of religious belief. What attracted me about these texts were their rapid, controlled changes from passion to tenderness, to humour and to a sense of loss. The music reflects these very human qualities and their constant shifting qualities, and as in other recent scores, I have tried to write music of a continuous but coherent change, which to me is the most evocative kind.
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