Alan E. Williams

Messages from the Scrolls

for SATB choir

duration: 10 minutes

Messages from the Scrolls
This piece sets four small fragments taken from the authoritative translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Prof. Geza Vermes.

The texts aren't intended to represent in any comprehensive way the beliefs of the sect of the Essenes who wrote the scrolls: I just identified particularly "brightly coloured" fragments, especially from parts of the texts which were already fragmentary. For me there's something very poignant about reading these extremely rigid rules for living. In the first text, for example, the metaphor of not "sowing the field with two kinds" is an argument for the separatism of the Essene community, a kind of separatism which persists today. It seems sad to me that we haven't learnt anything in over 2000 years.

The other texts refer to eating. It's ironic that such stringent asceticism is enforced using such sensuous language – particularly in the fourth song "If the juice has not oozed out". Of course, isolating a few sentences from a whole book is bound to distort their context; but I'd like the piece to be a testament to the incidental poetry that can occur even in the most "academic" surroundings. The music reflects these varying moods of poignancy, sensuousness and fragility.


Alan Edward Williams was born in Manchester in 1970. He studied music in Edinburgh, Manchester and Budapest, gaining a PhD in composition at the University of Manchester in 2000. He is now Associate Head of Music at the University of Salford.

Several of his pieces have been performed through the spnm: in 1998 his piece for small ensemble Adjunk Halat Mindnyajan… was performed at the Cheltenham International Festival, and recent pieces Stop/time (for the Première Crew, premiered in 2001) and An Accordion Dreams of String Quartets (for David Farmer, premiered 2002) came about through being shortlisted as an spnm composer.

Alan is also active as a musicologist and theorist of music. He has research interests in Hungarian contemporary music (especially that of Kurtag), and in music theatre and performance theory. He now lives in Dobcross, Saddleworth with his wife Justine, and they are soon to be joined by another person, but at the time of writing, they don't know what kind.

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