Symphony for Voices (Mouth Symphony)

Runswick, Daryl

Duration

15m 00s

Publisher

Faber Music

Composed

1994

Instrumentation

Voices Only

Scoring

Minimum 40 voices

Availability

Contact CoMA

About the work

Mouth Symphony is in four sections, slow-fast-slow-fast, performed without a break. It emerges imperceptibly from silence, and grows to a climax, wherat some rhythmic, fast music begins, using an adaptation of process techniques. The next slow section is quiet and atmospheric, a succession of sound-pictures. It is interrupted by the emergence of the rhythmic ‘finale’, which employs actual choral singing – but in a style not usually associated with the concert hall. As for the texts of Mouth Symphony, they are never pure nonsense, though they often consist of ‘nonsense’ syllables (sometimes reminiscent of more than one language) used both for the associations they evoke and for their raw ‘sound’. Real texts are also used: from my diaries, from conversations with friends jotted down, and in the final section from two world-famous writers in their own languages. However the texts in Mouth Symphony are more important to the composer that the listener, who should not waste time trying to distinguish them as language. They simply provide no function as literature, nor are they descriptive or narrative, but play a simply colouristic role.

First Performance: CoMA Summer School Vocal Ensemble, Aug 1994, Firth Hall, Sheffield

Technical notes

Written for a large group of unaccompanied voices. The voices are not divided in any conventional way (rather deliberately mixed groups) nor are they required to do much actual singing. When, in the finale, choral singing is employed, it is in a style more associated with the football terraces than the concert hall! Much of the piece employs ‘extended vocal techniques’ (whispering, grunting, shouting, humming) but is designed to be performed by musicians who are not necessarily singers, and would work well as a piece employing the vocal skills of both choral and orchestral musicians in a mixed concert. Mouth Symphony is designed to be performed by musicians who are not necessarily singers: by orchestral players, for example, whose ability or inability to sing on pitch is not, in their everyday music-making, an issue.

Origin

COMA (with funds from London Arts Board)