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Last words : soprano with ensemble

by Andrew Ford (2013)

Last words


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Last words / Andrew Ford.

Library shelf no. Q 783.66547/FOR 3 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

A song cycle comprising musical settings of final poems, letters, diary entries, and, in some cases, deathbed utterances, by mostly famous people from history.

Program note

Even if some of the words I have set to music here are rather terse for songs, Last Words is probably best thought of as a cycle of songs and monologues, strung together to form a single structure.

The basic conceit - that of using the final poems, letters and diary entries of mostly quite famous people, together with a few deathbed utterances - was always going to yield a meditation on mortality and grief, but I felt, early on, that aesthetically this was not enough. No one wants to listen to over half and hour of slow, sad music. What the piece needed was some relief, perhaps some defiance, ideally something that would allow me to write some fast music.

Defiance proved easy enough to find. Chidiock Tichborne writing his poem in the Tower of London the night before Elizabeth I had him executed for treason and Emily Brontë railing at religion, provided plenty of both. Further relief came in the form of Florenz Ziegfeld's delirious ravings and Maurice Chevalier's sudden outburst of happiness. And at the heart of the piece, it seems to me, is Dorothy Porter's quiet delight in the view from her hospital bed.

But in order to write fast music, I had to turn to fiction. Originally, I had intended to include several sets of fictional last words alongside the real ones, but in the end there is just the one passage from the end of Tim Winton's novel Cloudstreet, in which Fish Lamb comes lumbering and clattering along the jetty on his way to the ocean.

Read texts here: http://www.andrewford.net.au/xlastwords.htm

Work Details

Year: 2013

Instrumentation: Soprano, violin, cello, piano.

Duration: 30 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Dedication note: Dedicated to Seraphim Trio, Jane Sheldon

Commission note: Commissioned by Jane Sheldon with funds provided by Australia Council. Music Board.

First performance: by Jane Sheldon, Helen Ayres, Zoe Knighton, Anna Goldsworthy at Last Words (Lecture Hall, Port Fairy) on 12 Oct 2013

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2016 Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize Highly Commended Andrew Ford
2014 Art Music Awards: Work of the Year: Vocal/Choral Winner Andrew Ford


Resonate article: 2014 Art Music Awards - winners by Australian Music Centre


Performances of this work

26 Aug 2018: at Turning Last Words into Music (The Great Hall, University House (Canberra)). Featuring Jane Sheldon, David Pereira, Edward Neeman, Helen Ayres.

1 Sep 2015: at Chamber Music at the Conservatorium (Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium of Music). Featuring Doug Emery, Wen Zhu, David Miller, Wendy Dixon.

18 Oct 2014: at Wendy Dixon (The Flute Tree). Featuring Wendy Dixon, Doug Emery, Jane Hazelwood, David Miller, Fiona Ziegler.

30 Mar 2014: at Seraphim Trio | Last Words (The Independent Theatre). Featuring Seraphim Trio, Jane Sheldon.

27 Mar 2014: at Seraphim Trio | Last Words (Melbourne Recital Centre). Featuring Seraphim Trio, Jane Sheldon.

26 Mar 2014: at Seraphim Trio | Last Words (Art Gallery of Ballarat). Featuring Jane Sheldon, Seraphim Trio.

22 Mar 2014: at Seraphim Trio | Last Words (Elder Hall). Featuring Seraphim Trio, Jane Sheldon.

15 Oct 2013: at Last Words - colloqium and concert (Elder Hall). Featuring Seraphim Trio, Jane Sheldon.

12 Oct 2013: at Last Words (Lecture Hall, Port Fairy). Featuring Helen Ayres, Anna Goldsworthy, Zoe Knighton, Jane Sheldon.

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