Jennifer Goode Cooper, soprano
Kelly Horsted, piano
This piece imagines a scene in which a woman puts herself and her words between a mob and its victim. And she too is thus cornered by the crowd and, surrounded, she turns on them.
There are many such scenes of bitter lament and condemnation in literature, and many such Jeremiads in plays and films: in court-rooms, at executions, in public squares. There's plenty of polemic in the world but in our own century the media often reports it to us; it's rarely so in-the-face.
The music here is stark. Almost all the singer's phrases sink chromatically from a starting peak, and the piano's interjections are sharp staccato barks or a low, roiling counterpoint which now and again breaks out into strange chords. There's some sort of slow dance in this piece, some sort of tango of tension between the woman and her attackers.
She calls the crowd on its hypocrisy, its herd-like thoughtlessness, its animal instincts, its stupid, hysterical cruelty. Her anger here is not a hot, hysterical rage or some sort of melodramatic chest-beating; instead, it's vicious, ruthless, ice-cold. Whatever has transpired, she's going to give as good as she got before they close in on her. And then, one imagines, brute strength will overcome whatever words echo in the air.
A few fingerings are suggested for moments which might otherwise seem quite awkward for the pianist. The pianist's glissando in m. 77 is a "fake" and can sound messy; the arrival at m. 78 is ultimately more important. Ideally the singer should begin the phrase on the downbeat of m. 78 with the piano; if necessary, the singer can enter right after the downbeat.
Your mercy’s nothing: worthless; save it.
With every second’s twitch you change your minds;
how soon and easy you forget your fears,
the desperate hungers in the hollows
of your bodies, the press of bones inside
your sliding skin: sliding as easily as lies,
that slip between your lips like breath and bile.
You jig and you spin and you lisp, and you
pseudonym your sins, and your desires
are a sick man’s thirst, craving most the thing
There is another justice,
yet you want this vicious chase:
the slit throats,
the bracelets smeared with blood,
the touch of steel, the sudden eyes…
And still this planet dances on
around its seething, heedless fire,
your justice shining and drying
and spinning in the sun: turning
your ignorance to cruelties,
so what should make you shiver makes you smile.
– Duncan McFarlane