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Julia Wolfe

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Cruel Sister (2004)
commissioned by musica femina münchen e.V.
Red Poppy
Sub Category
String Orchestra
Year Composed
35 Minutes
Programme Note
Julia Wolfe Cruel Sister (2004)
Composer Note:

Cruel Sister takes its title from a dark and fantastic old English ballad of the same name. I first heard a beautiful and eerie rendition of the song while in college, on an album by the British folk/rock group Pentangle. While there are no musical references to the original tune, the story of the ballad inspired a response. It's a tale of two sisters — one bright as the sun, one cold and dark. So that she can have the love of the young man who has come courting, the dark sister pushes the bright one into the sea. The dead sister, who is washed up on the shore, is found by two minstrels who shape her breast bone into a fine harp. They come to play at the sister's wedding. As the music from the harp reaches the bride's ears the song concludes, "And surely now her tears will flow." The ballad is incredibly haunting and powerful. I was fascinated and horrified by the overwhelming greed and jealousy of the tale. My "Cruel Sister" is a search to unravel this human dilemma. In a sense, it is the music of "the harp," a plea for a higher love.

— © Julia Wolfe

  • Ensemble
    Ensemble Resonanz
    Brad Lubman
    Cantaloupe Music :
...a striking half-hour showpiece for strings alone, which moves from menace to an uneasy calm, and then to a pizzicato-led coda.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,12/10/2012
Woman in the Mirror: Gloomy stories can be set to music especially well. The English ballad "Cruel Sister" deals with two sisters in love with the same man. In order to have him for herself, the bad sister pushes the good sister into the sea. Musicians find the bones and carve a harp out of them, on which they play at the wedding. The American composer Julia Wolfe made a fascinating piece for string orchestra out of this material, which was premièred at the concert of the Munich Chamber Orchestra in the Hercules Hall. With the rising and swelling of turbulent tone repetitions, Wolfe creates a thrilling suction of sound.
Sebastian Werr, Süddeutsche Zeitung,01/06/2004
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