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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Three Women (1997)
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
40 Minutes
soprano, narrator
Alternate Orchestration
soprano; fl(pic),cl,hn,pf(synth),perc,vln,vla,vc
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Three Women (1997)

This work (circa 40 minutes) is based on excerpts from the three historical operas of Thea Musgrave. The excerpts reveal the dramatic turning points of the operas, and the various choices made by the protagonists, choices which will determine the course of their lives. The protagonists are from other times and other places (mid 16th century in Scotland and the first half of the nineteenth century in North and South America). They are women whose decisions nevertheless can find a resonance in our own lives today.

A creative writer can make that leap of imagination and visit distant places, observe different times and cultures. Inevitably what is recalled here is not an exact historic document; it is a theatrical reconstruction to engage the imagination and emotions that hopefully will make history vital and meaningful.

The excerpts are taken from the opera MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (first performance by Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh International Festival, 1977). SIMON BOLIVAR, in which Manuela Sáenz is one of the principal characters, (Virginia Opera, 1995). HARRIET, THE WOMAN CALLED MOSES an opera based on the life of Harriet Tubman, (Virginia Opera, 1985).

By a strange and unplanned coincidence quoted material appears in all the works: works which were composed over a period of nearly twenty years.

An ancient Scottish melody "The Bonnie Earl of Moray" is heard at the outset in the orchestral overture of "Queen" (from Mary, Queen of Scots). It is the basis for several of the other musical themes.

Trinitaria, the contredanse which is played as the Narrator sets the scene for Mañuela, was one of Simón Bolívar's favourite dances and was found among his papers at his death.

The famous spiritual "Go down Moses" is of course the source for Harriet Tubman's pseudonym. At the beginning of the excerpt "Slave" she is heard humming the melody, only to be hushed by the Narrator: a reminder that the song was strictly forbidden at the time.

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