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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