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Nico Muhly

Publisher: Chester Music

Impossible Things (2009)
Commissioned by Britten Sinfonia, Muziekcentrum Frits Philips and Tapiola Sinfonietta
Text Writer
C.P. Cavafy (trans. Daniel Mendelsohn)
St. Rose Music Publishing
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Sub Category
String Orchestra
Year Composed
27 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Nico Muhly Impossible Things (2009)


I believe in the Hereafter. Material appetites or love for the real don't beguile me. It's not habit but instinct. The heavenly word will be added to life's imperfect sentence, otherwise inane. Respite and reward will follow upon action. When sight is forevermore closed to Creation, the eye will be opened in the presence of the Creator. An immortal wave of life will flow from each and every Gospel of Christ — wave of life uninterrupted.

In the stillness of an autumn night, I sit near an open window, for entire hours, in a perfect, voluptuous tranquility. The gentle rainfall of the leaves descends. The keening of the perishable world resounds within my perishable nature, but is a dulcet keening, rising like a prayer. My window opens up an unknown world. A fount of fragrant memories, unutterable, appears before me. Against my window wings are beating — chill autumnal exhalations approach me and encircle me and in their holy tongue they speak to me. I feel vague and wide-embracing hopes; and in the hallowed silence of creation, my ears hear melodies, hear the crystalline, the mystic music of the chorus of the stars.


SEPTEMBER OF 1903 (1904)
At least let me be deceived by delusions, now, so that I might not feel my empty life. And I was so close so many times. And how I froze, and how I was afraid; why should I remain with lips shut tight; while within me weeps my empty life, and my longings wear their mourning black. To be, so many times, so close to the eyes, and to the sensual lips, to the dreamed of, beloved body. To be, so many times, so close.

JANUARY OF 1904 (1904)
Ah this January, this January's nights, when I sit and refashion in my thoughts those moments and I come upon you, and I hear our final words, and hear the first. This January's despairing nights, when the vision goes and leaves me all alone. How swiftly it departs and melts away — the trees go, the streets go, the houses go, the lights go: it fades and disappears, your erotic shape.


27 JUNE 1906, 2 P. M. (1908)
When the Christians brought him to be hanged, the innocent boy of seventeen, his mother, who there beside the scaffold had dragged herself and lay beaten on the ground beneath the midday sun, the savage sun, now would moan, and howl like a wolf, a beast, and then the martyr, overcome, would keen "Seventeen years only you lived with me, my child." And when they took him up the scaffold's steps and passed the rope around him and strangled him, the innocent boy, seventeen years old, and piteously it hung inside the void, with the spasms of black agony — the youthful body, beautifully wrought — his mother, martyr, wallowed on the ground and now she keened no more about his years: "Seventeen days only," she keened, "seventeen days only I had joy of you, my child."

There is one joy alone, but one that's blessed, one consolation only in this pain. How many thronging tawdry days were missed because of this ending; how much ennui. A poet has said: "The loveliest music is the one that cannot be played." And I, I daresay that by far the best life is the one that cannot be lived.

translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

Preview the score

  • 10 MAR 2017
    Tapiola Hall, Espoo, Finland
    Tapiola Sinfonietta
    Pekka Kuusisto, conductor
  • 09 JUN 2016
    Impossible Things US Premiere
    Rose Theater New York, NY
    The Knights
  • 25 NOV 2011
    Impossible Things Country Premiere
    Tapiola Hall Espoo, FINLAND
    Tapiola Sinfonietta
    Mark Padmore (tenor) ; Jaakko Kuusisto, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26 November - Music Centre Helsinki, FINLAND
  • 28 JAN 2010
    Britten In American Tour
    De Doelen, Rotterdam, Holland
    Britten Sinfonia
    Mark Padmore, tenor, Pekka Kuusisto, violin

    Other Dates:
    8 February - Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
    29 January - Concertzaal Tilburg, Holland
    30 January - Muziekcentrum Enshede, Holland
    31 January - Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland
    2 February - Congress, Saal Tirol, Innsbruck, Austria
    5 February - West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, UK
    6 February - Wiltshire Music Festival, Bradford-upon-Avon, UK
    7 February - Great Hall, Dartington, UK
    9 February - Christ Church, Cockermouth, UK
    11 February - Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, UK
    12 February - Queen Elizabeth Hall, Norwich, UK
  • 27 JAN 2010
    Britten In America Tour
    Muziekcentrum Frits Philips, Eindhoven, Germany
    Britten Sinfonia
    Mark Padmore (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin)

... a rich melange of Reich-like minimalist pulse and plangent string chants with Padmore's tenor soaring above. A rich palette, that caught somthing of Cavafy's "voluptuous tranquillity" as well as his anguished intensity.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph,10/02/2010
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