A semi-verbal evocation of the Sirens from The Odyssey for voice and flute.

for contralto voice and flute/alto flute / 6 min.

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Program Note

The Sirens are famous from The Odyssey, twin creatures half woman-half bird, luring sailors to their doom with their irresistible song. Claude Debussy wisely rendered their song in wordless female chorus in his Nocturnes because no mere words can evoke their power to drive men insane. My approach is only slightly more verbal. I have worked with just a few words from their song’s brief lines, and used them more as sound sources than as exposition—”come,” “our twain voices,” “our sweet lips,” “all that shall be” (the temptation, as ever in Greek mythology, is to the pleasure of wisdom more than of the flesh).

The music is alternately very quiet (as heard by Odysseus’ crew, their ears stopped with wax) and very loud (as heard deep in his psyche by Odysseus, lashed to the mast). I have exploited a variety of coloristic effects discovered to me by contralto Christina Ascher and flutist Laura Falzon to suggest the two Sirens’ weird allure. Bizarre modes arose as I composed, like scales from some ancient time. The result is a short work requiring virtuosity in its subtle moments as much as in its bravura flourishes.

—Theodore Wiprud

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