Return to Chamber Music
Return to Works

Twilight Butterfly (2013)

For soprano and piano
[Version exists for mezzo-soprano and piano]
[Version exists for countertenor and piano]

First performance, soprano version: Ravinia Festival, IL, 12 August 2013
Gan-ya Ben-gur Akselrod, and pianist Adam Nielsen
First performance, mezzo-soprano version: Logan Center for the Arts, IL: 4 February 2014
Julia Bentley, and Lisa Kaplan, piano
6 minutes and 30 seconds

 
Text by Augusta Read Thomas

butterfly awake a heart

twilight moon
in the air
o glow and dance upon a soul

spanning time
starlights are ribbons
threads of memory
weaving and still

treasured heart
spiral ablaze
awake song
chant violets

silver moon will give peace again

up again arise butterfly
alight sky
ascend
chant wise choirs

as heart flutters
bells shine bright
moon marked
evening star

sing of harps
invisible gold gossamer harps

bells flash
awake a heart twilight butterfly
sky

Program Note

"I have set many texts over the years as the basis of vocal and choral works (Absolute Ocean, Daylight Divine, Earth Echoes, In My Sky at Twilight, The Rewaking, Chanting to Paradise, Song in Sorrow, Sun Songs, The Rub of Love) and titles of compositions that offer poetic images (Aureole, Dream Threads, Bubble: Rainbow (spirit level), Capricious Angels, Incantation, Radiant Circles, Resounding Earth). The poetic is always in my music. In writing Twilight Butterfly for light lyric soprano and piano, I began with a mental picture — a little story. I wanted to portray someone, viewing a butterfly fluttering on a deep summer evening beneath the twilight moon, whose heart is awakened as she looks skyward. This imagery became so specific that writing my own lyrics was almost inescapable.

"The musical score uses many adjectives and descriptive phrases to communicate the character and spirit of the music ("slightly chant-like or monotone," "enchanted and earthy," "spirited," "florid," "expressive"). There is a sense of eternal resonance and timelessness throughout, as the sustain pedal is never lifted.

"I have kept in mind several musical considerations beyond the evocative, impressionist nature of the piece. Dynamics are incredibly nuanced (only six dynamic levels are used!). Every minor gradation is sculpted, finely notated and at times encourage multiple realizations ("chose your own dynamic shape"). I sought to provide a comfortable performance environment for the singer. My lyrics integrate words whose open vowel sounds graciously suit the voice and inspire melismatic writing. The piano gives the singer pitches at every entrance. Frequent rubato indications allow the singer delicate rhythmic and interpretive flexibility.

"The musical texture subdivides into three layers that weave together throughout the entire song. Loud, bell-like resonances occur in the lower staff of the piano part. The soprano's vocal line occupies a middle layer. Elegant and sensuous arabesques appear in the top two staves of the piano part. Throughout Twilight Butterfly, the three layers "trigger" one another in a very mobile, flexible and changeable relationship. Piano and singer never do anything together; the constant give-and-take allows even more collaboration because there is no direct synchronization of parts.

"Twilight Butterfly was commissioned by Ravinia Festival President and CEO Welz Kauffman, Program Director Kevin Murphy and Ravinia's Steans Music Institute in honor of the institute's 25th Anniversary in 2013. The world premiere took place at Ravinia on August 12, 2013. Twilight Butterfly is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Kristin Lancino."

—Augusta Read Thomas

Program Note by Paul Pellay

Twilight Butterfly seems to hover in near-immobility, as if enthralled at the point where the roseate glow of dusk is about to yield to the night's lunar translucence. The text is Thomas' own, a sequence of deceptively disconnected images which all seem to pertain to that brief moment in time where day and night are in perfect balance. The solo voice flings spells and incantations into space as the piano rings, glows and resonates around it with Thomas' by now familiar bell strokes. And the music ends staring heavenwards, spellbound.

Selected Reviews

Elliot Mandel, Chicago Classical Review Contempo opens new year with bracing variety from eighth blackbird
"Thomas composed her intimate Twilight Butterfly (2013) for voice and piano after considering the imagery of a hot, summer evening. Singing the text (also written by Thomas), mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley showed off her tremendous vocal and stylistic range, weaving melismatic vowels around singular tones ringing from the piano. The Logan acoustic allowed each note from Bentley and Kaplan to blend with each other and resonate."

 

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
Ravinia institute's silver anniversary produces some vocal gold
"A signal milestone like the 25th anniversary of Ravinia's internationally known summer conservatory, the Steans Music Institute, by rights could not pass without new music lending cachet to the celebration. And so, earlier this year, the festival commissioned seven art songs and an instrumental chamber work from some prominent American composers, to be performed by Steans fellows during the current institute session.

"Of the seven new songs, Thomas' Twilight Butterfly, set to the composer's own text, is the most advanced in terms of compositional vocabulary. The soprano's fragmented vocal sounds sometimes float in still air, sometimes vault to the top of the singer's range. Resonant poetic images such as "ribbons of starlight" and "gold gossamer harps" summon bell-like shimmers and delicate arabesques from the independent piano part. This haunting music was realized with...precision by Gan-ya Ben-gur Akselrod and pianist Adam Nielsen."

 

Dennis Polkow, Chicago Classical Review Ravinia's Steans Institute celebrates 25 years with a vocal feast and seven world premieres
"Ravinia's Steans Music Institute had a 25th birthday party Monday night in Bennett Gordon Hall, and what a party: fifteen singers, six accompanists, two dancers and no less than seven world premieres.

"Former Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence Augusta Read Thomas' Twilight Butterfly spotlighted her own expansive haiku-like text which calls for a "light soprano" to flutter melodically like a butterfly with words suggesting flight, sky and height calling for vocal ascent while the piano accompaniment, nicely rendered by Adam Neilsen, is used to create evocative soundscapes.

"The vocal component, supplied by Israeli soprano Gan-ya Ben-gur Akselrod, was beautifully rendered..."

To obtain examination or performance material for any of
Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..