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Program note: The City, the River, the Elm, the Stone

  • Haydn Reeder
  • Source: The Song Company Haunted Lullabies 30 September 1993

The City, the River, the Elm, the Stone * Haydn REEDER (b. 1944)

The text is from four parts of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, namely (more or
less in order), part of the end of the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter, the
beginning of the book, a rune at the beginning of a passage dealing with King
Mark, Tristram and lseult, and the end of the book which is interleaved with the
completion of the Pluralbelle section. Because Joyce intended in Finnegans
Wake to convey the way we perceive or remember a dream, the language is
distorted. This has led the language in this case into the realms of music and
indistinctness which may be what has persuaded many composers to set
selections of this book. (l have used Joyce in previous compositions - for example, I
based the text of my chamber opera Sirens Hotel on a chapter of Ulysses.)
The title refers to four analogues to characters appearing in the text; the city
represents 'old Finn, lying in death beside the river Liffey (the river which runs
through Dublin) and watching the history of lreland and the world - past and future -
flow through his mind...'; the river is Anna Livia Plurabelle; the elm and the stone
are what two washerwomen turn into as they wash clothes on the banks of the
The section involving King Mark - one of the aliases which Finn/Everyman
assumes, deals with one of Joyce's favourite subjects, namely cuckoldry. The
decision visited upon King Mark is emphasized by imitating the sqwarking of sea

*Commissioned by The Song Company with assistance from the Australia Council.


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