Samuel, Rhian: Daughters’ Letters. Rental
Words by Anne Stevenson
Score, vocal score and parts
Duration: 22 minutes
For soprano soloist, percussion (one player) and strings
I Marianne Chandler to her mother in New Orleans
II Kathy Chattle, to her mother, from the Good Samaritan Hospital, New York
Commissioned by Sinfonia 21 with funds from the Arts Council of England and support from
Glaxo Wellcome for a Contemporary Music Network Tour, February 1997
1st perf: Valdine Anderson (soprano), Sinfonia 21, Martyn Brabbins (cond), St John’s Smith
Square, London, 3 February 1997
To say these poems are poignant understates their absorbing effect, and in setting them to music Samuel has achieved a masterstroke of tracing their fluctuations of tone. They are basically complementary, but within them there are subtle shifts to which the music responds tellingly, and in this performance by the soprano Patricia Rozario they came over as taut,dramatic scenes with a palpable emotional punch.
This deftly crafted work is a dramatic scena in contrasting parts, each setting a letter by a young American woman to her mother, as imagined by Anne Stevenson in her verse collection Correspondences. The first part, though musically bright and chattery, is a picture of early- 19th-century moral sternness; the second is a disguised portrait of the distressed Sylvia Plath, disconsolate tom-toms here being the dominant percussion. Austin’s players and his impassioned soloist, Patricia Rozario, brought the novel conception vividly to life.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, 3 June 2001
… Daughters’ Letters delivered [sensitive word-setting and tonal and rhythmic variety] in abundance. The flighty, ingenuous nature of Marianne Chandler, in the first letter, is immediately fixed in the wayward vocal line, set against the dazzling, excitable backdrop of chattering xylophone and pizzicato strings. The second letter (also fictitious) establishes the anguish of Kathy Chattle, whose brutal honesty about the downside of motherhood has landed her in an institution.
Barry Millington, The Times, 7 February 1997