the lily of heaven

Owen Leech

Commissioned for Ishirini's tour to Poland, 2012

Première: August, 2012, Krakow, Poland

the lily of heaven is a double choir setting of an E.E. Cummings poem.  The English version and Polish translation are sung simultaneously (by Ishirini and Strzyzowski Chor Kameralny in the first performance) producing a remarkable effect as the very different tone qualities of the two languages alternate in prominence or merge together.

 Owen writes:

"I was very happy to be asked to write a piece for Ishirini’s trip to Poland earlier this year.  Having lived and studied in Poland for two years, around a decade ago, I retain a great interest in the country and a rapidly rusting ability to express myself in its fearsomely difficult language.  Hearing that we were to collaborate with a Polish choir, I conceived the somewhat risky idea of having the two choirs sing simultaneously in their own very different languages. 

Finding a suitable text that was settable in both English and Polish, was a fairly lengthy process, but I eventually settled on a beautiful if rather impenetrable poem by E.E. Cummings, which had also been translated by the distinguished Polish poet, Julia Hartwig. The text is one of the American poet’s more elusive creations, at once nocturnal, sensuous, spare – so precise intelligibility during performance was not a high priority.  I set the text in the two languages more or less simultaneously – the choirs either overlapping in antiphonal blocks or collaborating in imitative polyphony – so that the sounds of languages (sometimes radically different, at others surprisingly similar) are almost always enmeshed.

In the hope of further performances outside Poland, I am preparing an alternative version with a Latin text – but the original will always be the true version!"

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