Everyone was a bird

Originally posted at Inside Story:

It’s no surprise that Messiaen was a prisoner of war when he first made use of birdsong, writes Andrew Ford.

Earlier this year I composed a song cycle for baritone and orchestra that includes words from a letter by the nineteenth-century West Australian botanist, Georgiana Molloy, telling of the drowning of her infant son. For obvious reasons I have been thinking about it again these past few days.

Setting a poem to music is one thing, setting somebody’s letter is another. In this case the diction is rather formal. Georgiana is writing to a man in England she has never met, a collector of plants to whom she sends specimens. She tells him of her child’s drowning in order to explain her tardiness, apologising for presuming on the professional nature of their correspondence. Yet perhaps the fact that she is writing to a stranger enables her to…

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