Liz Johnson

Sleep Close

for soprano and piano

duration: 6 minutes

Sleep Close
This lullaby, which appears to start innocently as a mother singing gently to her child but reveals a woman who feels her life has been destroyed, was written by the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) and translated by D.M. Pettinella. The cause of the woman’s anguish is hinted at but ultimately left unclear.

The vocal part is rhythmicly free, often completely independent from the gently pulsing piano part. Occasionally the voice and piano do synchronise, and then move away from each other with wide spread piano chords and expressive vocal line. The song was written for Debbie Bennett who gave its first performance in May 2000 at the Staadtwaage in Bremen, Germany.

I deliberately seek out texts by female poets, initially inspired by the work of 11th Century poet and composer Hildegard of Bingen. Other settings include Jo Shapcott’s Pig for baritone and glockenspiel, Elephant Woman for soprano solo and Cabbage Dreams for soprano and piano, and Kathleen Jamie’s Skeins o Geese and Wee Wifey for baritone and piano. (The songs for baritone are an attempt to help redress the gender balance of all those men writing songs for women to sing).

Liz Johnson’s music has been receiving public acclaim since she started composing full-time in 1998 when she took what was meant to be a "gap year" from her teaching career to do an MA in Composition. Since then she has continued her studies with Philip Cashian and is in the final stages of her PhD in Composition at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Her work ranges across many genres including a large body of sacred and secular choral works and pieces for male vocal quartet, female trio and solo voice. Through spnm Liz’s music has received performances around the country including Cygnus for percussion quartet - Ensemble Bash, (Spitalfields Festival 1999), des branches du jardin for large chamber ensemble - Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) (Birmingham, 2001), de l’herbe qui s’éveille for 11 solo strings - Goldberg Ensemble (Manchester and Wolverhampton, 2002) and Iridaceae for solo violin and live electronics - Mieko Kanno, (Durham, 2002). The trio for clarinet, viola and cello Towards The Sea has been broadcast on Radio 3’s Morning Performance programme.

Other performances in 2002 include She Looks Up - a one-page improvisation piece written especially for Peter Wiegold and BCMG, images of trees - String Quartet No.1 played by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, and The Mud Bath for mixed ensemble, to be premièred at the Tate Liverpool Gallery.

In 2003 Liz’s music will be featured as Composer-Host in the Bromsgrove Mixing Music Festival and her new work Incantations to the Moon will be premièred by the Bournville Children’s Choir as part of the Adopt-a-Composer scheme (sponsored by spnm, PRS and Making Music).

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