Daughters of Earth and Water

Alexander, John

About the work

Our attempts at understanding the natural world are uncovered and defined by our senses. We try, for example, to make meaningful sense of weather when considering – even fleetingly – particular aspects of this pervasive thing on a daily basis: work, crops, play, relationships, journeys are all affected by it, may even depend on it. So, the starting point for this piece was the idea of rain-bearing clouds being associated in some way with our senses.

I derived the title from a line in Shelley’s poem, ‘The Cloud’, which reads: “I am the daughter of Earth and Water…” There are five movements, each with a title and (in parenthesis) a sub-title – being, in my mind, of equal weight, creative thought and of having (in an adhering sense) a cleaving syntheses. A percussion part runs through the work, fairly important to me in this connection as I once (or twice) played percussion in CoMA ensemble(s); and there are five material types utilised in this part: metal, skin, glass, wood and stone. One other peripheral point to make is that the work starts on a G (referencing the ground?) and finishes on an A (for air, perhaps?).

1 ‘Looks like rain’ (cumulus congestus) opens with a short borrowing – a viola line in the original – from Debussy’s ‘Nuages’. Cumulus clouds start low, developing vertically to towering congestus, whose dark base warns of a sudden shower. You may hear a children’s playground song in its midst.

2 ‘Tastes like rain’ (stratocumulus), is a frief flavour – 13 bars long – of an ‘occasional light rain’ giving cloud, in transition; layers of cloud, with gaps. Quiet fragments of a Chopin Prelude are dropped in.

3 ‘Feels like rain’ (nimbostratus), is of a precipitation-bearing wet-blanket of a cloud thick and ragged, steady and a bit ponderous, but with depth. My arrangement of part of an Omaha Indian ‘Prayer for Clear Weather’ is played by a quartet of musicians during this movement.

4 ‘Smells like Rain’ (altostratus opacus), a middle-of-the-road cloud that produces a steady fall of light rain. Apparently, only 25mm of rainfall is needed to remove most airborne particles and almost all soluble gasses, including sulphur dioxide, from our atmosphere, giving us that common experience of clear, fresh air after rainfall. Helen Keller wrote about her sense of smell informing her of a coming storm long before it was visible to anyone else. Animals too are wonderful meteorologists – cows, for instance, lie down before it rains. Another children’s playground song is alluded to within.

5 ‘Sounds like Rain’ (cumulonimbus), are thunderstorm clouds typified by their darkenss and enormous height. A two-beat sample from Beethoven’s 6th Symphony may probably be missed in the mix of the storm section. However, perhaps more significant (certainly to me, for reasons I’ll make clear) is the short self-quotation at the very end of this movement taken from ‘rain spirit passing’, composed for flute and double bass duo. This in itself originally came from a piece I wrote for a 5-note wooden flute, double bass and glockenspiel at the very first CoMA Summer School I attended in 1993. It seemed appropriate.

In my wish to acknowledge and endorse the extraordinary work undertaken and the vision that he still has, I warmly dedicate this piece to Chris Shurety.

This piece was commissioned for CoMA by Howard Jones, Artistic Director of Open Score 2012.


Open Score commission 2012


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score & parts


Sample score



0m 00s




Flexible Ensemble with Keyboard


Four parts: high, medium high, medium low, low Piano Percussion
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