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Nico Muhly

Publisher: Chester Music

The Last Letter (2015)
Commissioned by the Barbican Centre and the European Concert Hall Organisation, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union.
St. Rose Music Publishing
Solo Voices and 1-6 players
Year Composed
11 Minutes
Alternate Orchestration
baritone; oboe, harp, pf, strings (
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Programme Note
Nico Muhly The Last Letter (2015)
The Last Letter is a collection of five songs written for the baritone Benjamin Appl. When we met to discuss the possible texts, Ben proposed setting letters sent between soldiers and their loved ones during the First World War. I love found texts; it seems much easier than navigating the thorns of poetry.

The first song exists in a foggy landscape, with a lazily anxious sequence of pitches from the piano. The voice repeats the text “Please, tell me your name, as I have forgotten it” over a chorale-like structure. The second one is a breathless love song: obsessive, repetitive and almost out of control. The third, in which a woman is asking for a conjugal visit from her husband, takes the first movement’s piano figuration and makes it fast, cluttered and hungrily ecstatic. The fourth section is a heartbreaking letter from a woman divorcing her husband and placing their children in an orphanage. The piano establishes a steady, deliberate pattern, over which the voice describes simultaneous devastation: economic and emotional. The last song breaks the form, and sets a translation of the same poem by Schiller as used by Schubert (“Die Götter Griechenlands”), describing a deserted landscape. The piano agitates a sequence of 13 chords in a large cycle, and the songs end with a fragment of the introduction, floating over bell-like chords.

Programme note © 2015 Nico Muhly

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