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The Moth Requiem

author of text

Loss and memory are the subject of The Moth Requiem, for twelve female voices and an unusual—but typically Birtwistlian—accompanying ensemble of alto flute and three harps. We might recognise Birtwistlian fingerprints in the treatment of voices: each voice has a separate part, and only occasionally do they join (usually into four groups of three). The word-setting is highly original, with the poem at the work’s centre split in hocket fashion between different lines so that each singer sustains one syllable as another commences the next; audibility of the text, as often in these works, is far from central to Birtwistle’s expressive intentions.

The poem, ‘A Literalist’, is the first from a sequence called The Moth Poem which Robin Blaser wrote in the early 1960s, and was inspired by mysterious sounds he heard in his house at night, which he finally traced to a moth caught inside the lid of his piano. If the poem is an elusive response to this stimulus, then Birtwistle’s instrumental writing, particularly at the opening of the work, is extraordinarily vivid and mimetic in its evocation of the sounds of the moth hitting the piano strings as it flies around. But as the title indicates, the work is a meditation on loss and a memorialising of what is lost, albeit one without Christian content and without anything of the traditional structure of a requiem Mass, and the greater part of the text is a simple incantation of the Latin names of various moth species, some of them still commonly found but others believed close to extinction—and coming here to stand, we might suspect, for the departed loved ones whose commemoration has been one of choral music’s chief concerns.

from notes by John Fallas © 2014


Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem
SIGCD368Download only


Track 8 on SIGCD368 [18'32] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD368 track 8

Recording date
22 September 2012
Recording venue
BBC Broadcasting House, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Michael Emery
Recording engineer
Marvin Ware
Hyperion usage
  1. Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem (SIGCD368)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: February 2014
    Download only
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