Jabberwocky (2013)

SATB (max. 3-part divisi)
(text: Lewis Carroll – in English, German, and Latin)
10 min.
(not currently available – under revision)

In late 2012, I received a request from a Finnish choir for a piece in English. After toying with several possible texts and eventually discarding them all for one reason or another, I decided that perhaps words, or at least their meaning, were getting in the way. Casting around for a less restrictive option, I settled quickly on an old favorite, Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky, from the “Alice” novel Through the Looking-Glass, which I always took to be about the dark fears that plague childhood dreams, and the vanquishing of the terrors of the mind. Where a fairy tale would use actual words, Carroll’s nonsense terms and neologisms convey atmosphere mainly via sound (implicit) rather than commonly accepted meaning (explicit), which is very much how I view the function of music: despite being essentially meaningless, its meaning is clear when the sound image is right. The task thus became finding the right sound images to convey simultaneously the terrifying nightmare vision of Carroll’s poem and its innate silliness, both serious and absurd at the same time. The result is a showpiece of tongue-in-cheek showiness, replete with self-conscious effects and jokes – a piece that attempts to create a world and yet is aware of its own artifice. The “fourth wall” is repeatedly knocked down by all manner of external commentary both musical and verbal – not to mention the parallel use, now portentous, now parodic, of a neo-Latin translation of the poem by Carroll’s uncle, as well as Alice’s own pithy reflections on the poem, which, in the book, has virtually no importance beyond the moment. Though certain well-worn devices of contemporary choral composition are invoked, the object of derision is only ever my own music, and the personal clichés I regularly catch myself using.

Jabberwocky was commissioned by the Murtosointu chamber choir for their 10th anniversary, and is dedicated to them.