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Syllables (2007)

for Dianne Berkun and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Children's chorus, piano, synthesizer, 8'

Syllables is an exploded setting of an old Icelandic text describing the end of the world. I say exploded as I elected to set the text both in English, fragments of Old Icelandic, as well as nonsense syllables taken from both languages. There is a constant, anxious pulse throughout the first section, which ends with a giant unison and the entire choir singing the same text for the first time in the piece. This texture melts into an aquatic, lilting piano accompaniment, over which a long, long line eventually dissolves into unison chordal syllables, as if the last things standing are the fragments of language.

Syllables was commissioned by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus as part of their 2006-2007 commissioning season, alongside works by Paul Morvaec and David Lang.

Read a review here.


Icelandic texts:
Sól tér sortna, sígr fold í mar,
hverfa af himni heiðar stjörnur;
geisar eimi ok aldrnari,
leikr hár hiti við himin sjálfan.

Geyr nú Garmr mjök fyr Gnípahelli;
festr man slitna, en freki renna.

Sér hon upp koma öðru sinni
jörð ór Å“gi iðjagrÅ“na;
falla forsar, flýgr örn yfir,
sá er á fjalli fiska veiðir.

Þar munu eptir undrsamligar
gullnar töflur í grasi finnask,
þærs í árdaga áttar höfðu.

Völuspá 57-59, 61

English texts:
The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,ӬThe hot stars down from heaven are whirled;ӬFierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,ӬTill fire leaps high about heaven itself.

Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,ӬThe fetters will burst, and the wolf run free;ӬMuch do I know, and more can seeӬOf the fate of the gods, the mighty in fight.

Now do I see the earth anewӬRise all green from the waves again;ӬThe cataracts fall, and the eagle flies,ӬAnd fish he catches beneath the cliffs.

In wondrous beauty once againӬShall the golden tables stand mid the grass,ӬWhich the gods had owned in the days of old.

Trans. Henry Adams Bellows (1923)

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