Composition Date: 2011
Text: Phil Hind
Commissioned by Beryl Calver-Jones and Gerry Mattock.
First performed by Psappha at the Coronation Hall in Ulverston as part of Lake District Summer Music on 5 August 2011, with narrator Jonathan Best and director Elaine Tyler-Hall.
Sally Beamish and Phil Hind
Music, and translation of Langland text, commissioned by Beryl Calver-Jones and Gerry Mattock, following an original idea by Gerry Mattock.
When writing this piece I imagined the players as part of the action, and so did not start with a conventional ensemble seated onstage. I had a clear idea of where I wanted each instrument to enter and exit, and which persona they would represent at any point. But in the end it was not clear cut – partly because of my reluctance to assign any particular ‘Sin’ to one particular instrument!
An important factor in my approach was the idea that at some point (maybe not in the first performances) the work might be choreographed. This had a definite impact on the way I used rhythm and meter, and each Sin takes the form of a dance, with a regular pulse. Elaine, Phil and I met at an early stage to discuss the text, and I then worked on the music. From there, I handed over the music to Elaine, to develop the actual ‘choreography’ and staging.
The opening idea is taken from the sound of ancient bird bone whistles as used in prehistoric times. I was keen to keep one section of Middle English, to set the scene, and this is then repeated in modern English. I was conscious of a kind of ‘time line’ running through the text – and a portrayal of Sin, not as ‘wickedness’, but as human failing which corrupts happiness.
Avarice is characterized by drums, with a simple melody on flute and clarinet.
Envy is a tango. The idea of mockery and ‘sour grapes’ is created with a kazoo.
Gluttony is based on aMedieval dance, the ‘Estampie’, and is personified by the double bass.
Lechery has a sleazy nightclub feel, with clarinet solo and vibraphone.
Sloth begins with a slow dripping, and continues with long drawn-out phrases and glissandi, featuring alto flute.
Pride is a self-obsessed cello cadenza, and becomes a recitative punctuated by ensemble chords.
Anger is the first true ‘tutti’ section, and forms the climax of the piece.
From here we are taken to the present, to the universality of Sin, A bass drum leads into a recapitulation, which embodies contemporary versions of the previous sins.
Sloth reappears as Pollution, Gluttony as Drug Addiction, and Avarice as Causing Poverty. Each of these revisits themes from its counterpart, but these themes are less defined, and there is a blurring of material. Elements of other Sins reappear in juxtaposition so that the effect is of a summary.
When the Dreamer awakes, the bird-like piccolo is there again, this time as part of a chorus of birdsong in which all the instruments join.
The Sins was commissioned by Beryl Calver-Jones and Gerry Mattock, following an original idea by Gerry Mattock. It was first performed at Coronation Hall, Ulverston, as part of Lake District Summer Music, by Samuel West and Psappha.