mother goose’s melody is a piece of mine comprised of three short movements that are each a setting of a different nursery rhyme. ring around the rosie is the opening movement and is a grotesque setting of the popular rhyme:
Ring around the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
According to urban legend, ring around the rosie is said to be about the plague. Folklorists reject the idea, but a rosy rash was said to be a symptom of the disease and a “pocket full of posies” was a way to ward off the smell associated with it.
I address the larger story that this movement is a part of in the program notes but I DON’T get to talk about the ways in which this movement tells it’s OWN story. I focused on the last line of text, the idea of the tumble down into death, and the piece paints a picture of this in a couple of ways. The first, and most obvious, is just the overall shape. It starts in a high-ish tessitura for the choir and moves inexorably downwards until we arrive at these sweaty ichor-tainted chords in the men’s voices:
The other way in which the idea of descent is woven into the piece is in a slow mutation of the main musical motif. The piece opens with a minor third that catapults the sopranos to a scandalously diminished octave. It’s this second interval that tells the story of our descent.
If you’ll just take….
…a look at these….
…you’ll notice that the interval…..
…after the minor third….
…is constantly shrinking….
…and if we followed the process to it’s logical conclusion, we’d eventually get to a unison. We’re notably deprived of that here and I think I know why. If one regards life as a process and it’s inevitable conclusion as the result of said process then this piece doesn’t make sense. But if one were to regard death as an interruption of the process of life then the picture becomes a whole lot clearer, albeit terrifyingly so. Scary, eh?
More tidbits to come!