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Night’s Black Bird was commissioned by Roche for LUCERNE FESTIVAL. The work was first performed in Lucerne on 21 August 2004 by The Cleveland Orchestra with Franz Welser-Möst, conductor, as part of LUCERNE FESTIVAL, SOMMER 2004.

Duration: 12 minutes

Composer’s Note


The title of Night’s Black Bird is taken from the text of John Dowland’s lute song Flow my tears:


Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.


It was written as a companion piece to The Shadow of Night, both works exploring the world of melancholy as understood and celebrated by Elizabethan poets and composers. They take inspiration from two dark sources – the expressions of melancholy in Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I (1514) and Dowland’s song In darkness let me dwell. The first three notes of this song are woven into the fabric of both pieces: a rising semitone which comes back on itself – the simplest move in all music. The point is that they do not actually go anywhere, which creates a kind of stasis.


Also, Night’s Black Bird begins and ends in the same way as The Shadow of Night – it is in the same territory, but it takes slightly different paths. In a combined performance, Night’s Black Bird may be played either before or after The Shadow of Night.
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