By Lewis Spratlan | For For SATB Chorus and Solo Cello | 25′

Title: Creatures
Composer: Lewis Spratlan
Text by: Ted Hughes
Year Composed: 2020
Instrumentation: For SATB Chorus and Solo Cello
Duration: 25′

Format: Full Score
Page Size: Letter
Catalog Number: OM0441

Format: Cello Part
Page Size: Letter
Catalog Number: OM0441P

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From the composer:

Ted Hughes, arguably Britain’s greatest poet of the 20th century and poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, wrote often of animals, imbuing them at once with a sense of their inherent essence and their life within human consciousness and purpose. He wrote frequently of the mixture of beauty and violence in the natural world. Animals serve as a metaphor for his view on life: animals live out a struggle for the survival of the fittest in the same way that humans strive for ascendancy and success.

Hughes was married to American poet Sylvia Plath from 1956 until her death by suicide in 1963 at the age of 30.  His last poetic work, Birthday Letters (1998), explored their relationship. Much controversy followed her death, centering mainly on claims that he had badly mistreated her and drove her to suicide. These were met with equally vehement claims of Hughes’s innocence.

Creatures is both a choral work and a little cello concerto, with choir replacing orchestra as accompaniment. But symbiosis is hard at work here, the cello illustrating the text while the choir amplifies the cello, and the whole, as a unit, portrays Hughes’s insights into the creatures’ lives in our lives.

“Jaguar” takes place in a zoo.  Apes, parrots, tiger, lion, and boa constrictor: all are ignored, as if painted on a nursery room wall, and the crowd hurries to behold the jaguar, enraged.  He defies his cage.  Over the cage floor his horizons come…

The title-subject of Hughes’s first published collection, The Hawk in the Rain, reappears in “Hawk Roosting.”

This text reveals the bird’s appetites, its joy in the freedom of air, its celebration of its physical perfection – curved beak, curved claw – for the task at hand.  The middle section portrays the slow airborne spirals that allow the hawk to take in everything. “I kill where I please because it is all mine.”  

“Ghost-Crabs” slowly emerge from the sea, at first looking like packed helmets.  They gradually spill inland, enveloping everything and everyone, pressing through our nothingness. “These crabs own this world.  All night, around us or through us / They stalk each other, they fasten onto each other, / They mount each other / They tear each other to pieces, / They utterly exhaust each other… We are their bacteria, / Dying their lives and living their deaths.”  They return to the sea, where they recuperate.  They are God’s only toys.

“Esther’s Tomcat” lives a life of high adventure, sleeping like a bundle of old rope and iron until blue dusk, when his eyes open and he yawns, revealing fine fangs. Here follows a story within a story, as the tomcat attacks a mounted knight, locked around his neck “like a trap of hooks.”  The bloodstains remain after hundreds of years.  The tom attacks dogs and chickens but remains unkillable.  He brings his skin whole from owlish moons of bekittenings among ashcans. He walks lightly on sleep, his mind on the moon.

Commission/Dedication: Commissioned by Harvard University for the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum. Andrew Clark, director, and cellist Matt Haimovitz.

This entry was posted in a cappella, Cello, Cello Concertos, Choral Music, Composers, Instrument, Lewis Spratlan, Voice, Works for Rent and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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