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Michael Gordon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

He Saw a Skull (2008)
Work Notes
Part III of 'Water'
Red Poppy
Chorus a cappella / Chorus plus 1 instrument
Year Composed
4 Minutes
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Programme Note
Michael Gordon He Saw a Skull (2008)
February 1 2009
Ars Nova
Athelas Sinfonietta
Paul Hillier, conductor
Copenhagen, Denmark

Old Testament, Isaiah 41:17, 29:18, 41:18

Part of Water (Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe)

   1. My Soul (David Lang)
   2. Water Instrumental (Heavy Water) (Michael Gordon)
   3. He Saw a Skull (Michael Gordon)
   4. Before Roll, Ocean (David Lang)
   5. Give Me (David Lang)
   6. Thirst (Julia Wolfe)
   7. Roll, Ocean (David Lang)
   8. Tephillat Geshem (Prayer for Rain) (Michael Gordon)

Composer Note:

He Saw a Skull is written for a chorus of 12 voices. The chorus is divided into four groups of three voices, with each group singing major and minor harmonies that are approached by glissando. The text is taken from a short saying by Rabbi Hillel found in the Talmudic tractate Pirkei Avot:
He saw a skull floating on the water. He said to the skull, "Because you drowned others, they drowned you. And they who drowned you will themselves be drowned."
He Saw a Skull was written for Paul Hillier and the Danish group Ars Nova Copenhagen.

––Michael Gordon

Water is a lover's tears, an unquenchable thirst, a fight for survival, a prayer for rain. Our piece Water is a meditation on the poetry of water: what it means to have it, how we misuse it, and how we struggle for it. Rain falls. Tears flow. A skull is found in a river. A man thirsts.

Water is an exploration through music, staging and projection of how dependent we are upon water in our world, and how uneasy our dependence really is. Much of our dependence is of course physical; at the same time, the hope for water, or the lack of it, can be a spiritual construct as well. Our piece explores the water we have and the water we need, the water we control and the water that controls us.

We have always lived with water in a kind of fragile equilibrium. We have too much. We have none. A rich man calls for ice in his water, next to a poor man who thirsts. It is a precarious balance, between blessing and curse, between life and death, between plenty and scarcity.

— Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe

  • Ensemble
    Ars Nova Copenhagen
    Paul Hillier
    Cantaloupe Music:
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