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Jocelyn Pook

Publisher: Chester Music

Hearing Voices (2012)
Commissioned by BBC 3 for the BBC Concert Orchestra and premiered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on December 3, 2012, conducted by Charles Hazlewood.
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
35 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
Jocelyn Pook Hearing Voices (2012)
Hearing Voices looks at the individual experiences of mental illness by a series of women from different generations, each portrayed in turn by the solo singer and with the musical potential of the human voice deeply embedded in the score.

The work is particularly personal for Pook, whose own family has been touched by mental illness over three generations. It features recorded testimony and writings from artists Bobby Baker and Julie McNamara, Jocelyn's relatives Phyllis Williams and Mary Pook, and the seamstress Agnes Richter, inmate in a German asylum in the 1890s, who covered her straitjacket with densely embroidered text.

Read Jocelyn Pook's article 'inspired by mental illness' in The Guardian from 23 November 2012 here.

Originally commissioned as an orchestral song-cycle for the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2012, Hearing Voices has since been reworked and extended as a multi-media performance piece for chamber ensemble. Read more about the chamber version here.

The work is part of Pook's Mental Health Trilogy, a collection of compelling and relevant works exploring mental health and psychological trauma in all its manifestations:

I. Hysteria - A Song Cycle for Singer and Psychiatrist (2018)

II. Hearing Voices (full orchestra, 2012) | Hearing Voices (chamber, 2015)

III. Anxiety Fanfare and Variations for Voices (2014)


Full piece in rehearsal

Preview the score

Hearing Voices sheds a new light on mental illness. The music does not mimic the atonality and dissonance often associated with madness, which can often sound butchered, ugly and inaccessible. Instead, we were put in the shoes of these women through simple and accessible, yet unique, soundscapes, which are at times contorted, pushing us to feel the pain and struggles that these women experienced, and at times erupting into laughter.
Clare Elton, Fringe Opera,01/08/2015
The most intriguing piece, and the only one dealing seriously with hysteria... was the premiere of 'Hearing Voices' by Jocelyn Pook. Substantial in its 40-minute length and ambition, it merged recorded voices of patients talking about mental illness with a remarkable live performance by Melanie Pappenheim, who sang and acted the parts of several women of different eras undergoing breakdowns. Pook's underlying score started unpromisingly: the endless minimalist repetitions of two chords seemed designed to drive people crazy. But gradually the counterpoints thickened - the instruments intertwining with, and sometimes goading, the singer - and the tension grew. Emma Bernard's stage direction was restrained but gripping. I feel uneasy when mental illness is turned into entertainment, but this was done with taste and integrity.
Richard Morrison, The Times,05/12/2012
It was pure serendipity that Jocelyn Pook's "Hearing Voices" for mezzo-soprano, recorded voices, and orchestra should chime so neatly with the debate which has suddenly broken out - not least in this newspaper - about how society treats mental illness... ... it became light as a feather thanks to a score which began with gently throbbing Glass-type ostinatos, and grew steadily more interesting, and above all thanks to Melanie Pappenheim's remarkable performance. Incarnating four characters in succession, she began as a psychologist in a white coat, moved into song as the seamstress, and then proceeded to alter her timbre as orchestration and character required. Obsessive-compulsive disorder became harsh repeated blasts on brass; hallucinations took on a boogying quality. Her final character spoke dreamily of flying off a high bridge: here Pappenheim's gaze became mesmerising, and when she burst into an ecstatic vocal equivalent of birdsong - liberated from the duty to make rational sense - the world found it's own sweet resolution.
Michael Church, The Independent,04/12/2012
Pook knows what she is talking about - three generations of women in her family have suffered, both with mental illness and the treatment they received or failed to receive. The result has been 'Hearing Voices' (...) It explores the confusion and taboo surrounding madness through the rich variety of language used to describe it, from the medical to the colloquial and euphemistic.
Jonathan Lennie, Time Out,27/11/2012
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