Samuel, Rhian: Haze and the Absence of Clouds
For High Voice, String Quartet and Piano
Score (2 copies supplied) and parts
Nature and landscape have been the dominant themes of much of Rhian Samuel’s vocal music of the last ten years, projected chiefly through the poetry of Anne Stevenson, and in her most recent song-settings, the writings of the Pakistan-born Texas-based poet Zulfikar Ghose. His poem ‘Conspiracy of the Clouds’ describes how, the clouds having chosen to become invisible, ‘Even the astronauts on the space shuttle / looked down on a cloudless America’ as hurricanes ravage Louisiana and storms engulf Nebraska. An intriguing conceit in the tradition of magic realism, the text is presented as a scena lasting around 16 minutes, with interpolations from ‘Haze’ by the nineteenth-century New England transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. Thus modern fable and romantic nature-description are juxtaposed, and their interaction becomes the source of musical contrasts too. Thoreau’s words are assigned predominantly to the vocalist’s highest register, those of Ghose to her lower tessitura; and the suggestive and dramatic accompaniment builds tension steadily to the final ironic response of an incredulous American public: not one of awe and wonder, but the question ‘Why weren’t we told about it?