About this Recording
8.570824 - CRESSWELL, L.: Voice Inside (The) / Alas! How Swift / Cassandra's Songs / Kaea (Pierard, New Zealand Symphony, Judd)

Lyell Cresswell (b. 1944)
The Voice Inside • Alas! How Swift • Cassandra’s Songs • Kaea


The Voice Inside (2001), a concerto for violin, soprano and orchestra, was commissioned by the BBC and comprises settings of seven poems by Ron Butlin relating to the violin.

The various movements of the concerto explore different relationships between the two soloists and the orchestra. The soprano is mostly unaccompanied in the first movement, but as life is breathed into the violin it refuses to be hushed by the voice. The first scherzo is a game of tag and catch between the two soloists, with the orchestra acting as a referee. As befits a concerto, confrontation between violinist and orchestra begins the third movement. This grows into a three-way conflict once the soprano enters. The slow movement is an intense cantilena for the two soloists, with, for the most part, light orchestral accompaniment. In the second scherzo flashy violin writing alternates with orchestral outbursts and the soprano’s attempt to reel off the names of virtuoso violinists. The burlesque, with its reference to twelve equal tones, makes some misguided allusions to the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg, and the last movement is a desperate plea, simply asking to be heard. The movements are:

[1] I. Invocation

Hush – hush –
Hush the strings –
Hush the body –
Still the bow to silence
echoing the silence long before
the strings, the body and the bow.
Before the strings were laid in place,
pegged and tied,
stretched and tightened taut.
Then arched above emptiness into the emptiness all around,
that held the greater silence
long before, the echo of the greatest silence ever.
Then touch – hush – touch – hush
Touch … Stroke to sound – draw sound
out of tightness, out of stillness, out of emptiness,
giving shape to the emptiness that everything
comes from and returns to. Giving scale
to the emptiness. Giving voice, giving life.

[2] II. Scherzo I

Your voice / My voice
Sound plaited with sound
Silence layered upon silence
criss-crossing, parting,
sliding together
to harmonise,
to kiss.
And O, those fugal lines
of tig and catch,
touch and snatch,
tag and miss.
Catch as catch can
boy and girl, woman, man
contrapuntal, asymptotic
mirrorwise inversion
canonic imitation
Your theme or mine?
Line for line
into the bars
and out.
Your key or mine?
– let’s intertwine.

[3] III. Vigorous

Not a woman’s voice – no:
Hard and harshness
Stride and strident
Not a woman’s voice – no:
Slash, strike, cut, score.
Not pleading, not pleasing, not –
Wound to the heart.
Stab to the soul.
Scar, scrape, mark, march
Destroy, destroy, destroy.
Command and order.
Design and structure.
Pattern and plan.
Man – forming everything around him
Man – controlling everything around him:
light and darkness.

[4] IV. Slow Movement

All sound has always held itself as absence
– in heart of strings, in hollowed body,
and unstrung bow – and as presence.
Soul as silence.

[5] V. Scherzo II

Four strings, body and bow.
Locatelli, Corelli,
Paganini, Tartini,
Neil Gow, Neil Gow, Neil Gow.
Four strings, body and bow.
Guarneri, Amati,
Stradivari, Viotti,
Vivaldi, Grapelli,
Spohr, Spivakovsky,
Neil Gow, Neil Gow, Neil Gow.

[6] VI. Burlesque

Twelve equal tones dangling on a score,
if one of them should modulate
– would there be a melody
where none had been before?
Twelve equal tones dangling on a stave,
if all of them should modulate
– which one would we save?
Chaos comes but once a year,
creation’s always late
so choose the note you like to hear
– the rest will sublimate!

[7] VII. Plea

Hear my voice, hear me listening
to the voice inside,
so deep, deep inside:
trembling, stirring – fear and hope,
awakening love, awakening hatred,
emerging – longing and desire.
Rising up from the core of the earth it feels,
from the furthest rim of the farthest star it feels,
from the darkest hour, the darkest night
the radiant sun at noon
– into my heart, into my lungs, my throat.
Revealing what I do not know.
Expressing what I dare not feel.
Saying what cannot keep silent.

- Ron Butlin

The inscription on the north face of a sundial in the garden of Inverleith Park, Edinburgh, reads ‘I number none but sunny hours’. On the south side it says, ‘So passes life. Alas! How swift’.

[8] The music of Alas! How Swift is fast, with a constant speed of 138 beats per minute (or 2.3 beats per second). Around this constant, underlying tempo, however, the speed sometimes quickens and sometimes slows. Even the moments of relaxation are underpinned and, perhaps, ruffled by persistent movement. The impetus for the music comes from fast repeated notes on the solo trumpet (double-tonguing). This energy engulfs the whole orchestra.

Alas! How Swift (2006) was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Cassandra’s Songs (2003) are taken from a larger work, Shadows Without Sun, which explores issues of exile, identity and belonging. This work was supported through a Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award and written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

[9] Cassandra’s Lament

What I see is what I say –
Five continents of sense becoming one.
My own, this sixth sense – my own alone.
Shadows without sun, their every touch contagion –
some chill, some burn. Only the stars are mine:
invisible as loss – or hope.

Ron Butlin

[10] Day and Night

By day my heart’s a language I cannot speak.
My house is exile. Here is my empty hand;
here is when I next draw breath.
By night we find stars set in our hair,
in our eyes, in our skin –
and cannot stop the darkness rushing in.

Ron Butlin

[11] Teach me, gods of song

Teach me, gods of song, some harsh lament
Dissonant with tears and howls,
Help me to sing Troy’s sorrows, invent
New sounds for my grief.

– From Euripides’ The Women of Troy
Translated by Don Taylor

[12] Cassandra’s Gifts

The King – A crown of iron and splintered bone.
The Queen – A robe of spattered blood.
My gifts for my royal masters.
To curse them. To call them to their time.
The rest, the undisclosed, is mine –
Slavery, exile and the blessings of the unseen.

Ron Butlin

[13] Exile

Here and there
There and here
Beyond and between
There and then
Here and away
… and for always

– Ron Butlin

The kaea was a long Maori wooden war trumpet made of hollowed-out sections of wood, lashed and glued together. It was used to raise the alarm in times of danger or to terrify the enemy as curses were shouted through it.

[14] The trombone concerto Kaea (1997) is in one continuous movement although traces of a four-movement form (fast; slow; scherzo and trio; fast finale) can be detected. It is as if these four movements are played simultaneously, taking various turns to come to the fore. In the slow introduction the piccolo plays a descending melodic line covering a limited pitch range. This material, in various guises, acts as a thread throughout the work and is used extensively at its core: the slow middle section. Kaea was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Lyell Cresswell


All poems by Ron Butlin and Don Taylor’s translation of Euripides are used with kind permission.

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