This photograph is all about absence – the gradual disappearance of the lovers from the image, physical contact attempted but not achieved.
Concepts of absence and distance are rich for musical expression, as demonstrated by composers of Romantic song, and the experience of loss is played out in this short piece. The clarinet and soprano begin in wordless intimate polyphony, weaving around each other before coming to rest around a few cycled pitches. Stabbed chords on harp and double bass then imply the breaking of the bond between the two lovers; the clarinet begins to spin upwards and out of sight, the soprano sinking further down while chasing the clarinet’s shadow.
The stabs lengthen and soften, becoming strummed chords over which the soprano mourns her loss in words by Theophile Gautier, a stanza omitted by Berlioz from his setting in the beautiful ‘Absence’ from his Les Nuits d’Êté. The image of the text is of wishing for wings to fly to a distant lover; while the two lovers end on the same note (E flat) they are still separated by an octave; while the clarinet remains on high, the soprano stays stubbornly earthbound while repeating her sobbing ‘Hélas’.
Absence will be premièred at Crypt on the Green on Saturday 20th June.