The City, the River, the Elm, the Stone : vocal sextet
by Haydn Reeder (1993)
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The text is from four parts of Joyce's Finnegan's 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 Iseult, and the end of the book, which is interleaved with the completion of the Plurabelle section.
Because Joyce intended to convey the way we perceive or remember a dream, the language is distorted. The language is being pushed into the domain of music, which has perhaps persuaded many composers to set parts of this book.
The title refers to four analogues of characters: the city represents 'old Finn, lying in death beside the river Liffey (the river which runs through Dublin) and watching the history of Ireland 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 Liffey.
The section involving King Mark - one of the aliases which Finn/Everyman assumes, deals with one of Joyce's favourite subjects, cuckoldry. The decision visited upon King Mark is emphasized by imitating the sqwarking of seagulls.
Instrumentation: Vocal ensemble: SSATBB: 2 Sopranos, Alto, Tenor, 2 Basses
Duration: 7 min.
The composer notes:
My short opera Sirens Hotel is based on a chapter of Joyce's Ulysses.
Performances of this work
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