These songs were composed in the spring of 2011 to words by the York-based poet Daniela Nunnari. There is no narrative thread running through the cycle, in fact the order of songs is left to the performer. But as the title indicates, all three express the thoughts and feelings of people in various precarious situations. In ‘Snakes and Ladders’ the protagonist explores the similarities between the ups and downs of a board game with life itself. ‘The Day the Clocks went Back’ is concerned with the ending of a relationship; this is reflected in the music by the fracturing of the metrical relationship between voice and piano (and the pianists’ two hands). ‘Submersed’ is an extract from a longer poem; the image of the willow is one which occurs repeatedly in the poet’s work.
Three Songs of Peril were first performed by Robert Rice and William Vann in April 2011. There is also a version for mezzo-soprano and piano.
Snakes and Ladders
and slip down secret snakes,
that wait for me
to miss a step,
I lose my grip,
on scales as smooth as silver tongues,
that spit me out,
But when in hell, as Winston says,
you keep on going,
never knowing where each fateful step will lead.
And so I carry on, across the board,
ignored by ladder climbers, clutching, grabbing,
pushing, to the top.
I quietly endure the little boxes,
fingers crossed for lucky numbers
to release me from this trap.
And as I wait my turn,
I scrawl my words on empty spaces,
trying hard to find the meaning
in this place of fate and chance.
While I wander, wondering why and when,
I hear the serpents hiss again and
soon I’m sliding,
right back to the start.
It always ends with this beginning.
Not quite losing, not quite winning.
Being a good girl makes no difference
in a game where chaos rules.
Guess I’ll face it with a grin, never giving in.
I close my eyes
and shake it twice.
I roll the dice.
The Day the Clocks Went Back
The Day the clocks went back,
the Autumn sky bled grey.
Thirteen moths escaped through skin.
Chaos called. We let him in.
The roses lost their heads. The one
you gave me faded on my ribs,
the ink still wet, the flesh still red.
I said goodbye.
The bath ran cold. My eyes ran dry.
The hermit left the house.
She bows her head and
over wistful water.
like a willow.
Trailing her tangled tendrils,
Slippery, rippling the reflections,
A face she’d forgotten.
she once knew.
They leave her,
Dissolve in the depths,
are lost in the
Her heavy head
The sky above
The day takes