The Dying of Light

For: Orchestra + solo Mezzo-soprano
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The Dying of Light


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Year of composition
Difficult (Grades 7+)
14 minutes
Modern classical music
License details
For anything not permitted by the above licence then you should contact the publisher first to obtain permission.

This is my masters thesis and has not been performed. Please contact me if you are interested in performing this work.

The Dying of Light is a single-movement work divided into three sections for mezzo-soprano, winds, and percussion. Inspired by loss, the composition was an attempt to reflect on human interpretation of death and the emotions associated with it. The title is extracted from Dylan Thomas’s poem Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night, however the word “the” was removed to convey a general relationship between death and the absence of light. In this thesis, I address human understanding of death as a universal experience through which all people share a mutual conception or awareness. The lyrics of the first section are a quotation from John Gunther’s memoir about his dying son, Death Be Not Proud. The resonating phrase “Tear at my heart” provides a vivid metaphor for the pain and anguish associated with loss. Following an opening melodic statement in an off-stage trumpet, interplay of dissonant sonorities between off-stage and on-stage brass induces tension in the audience as intimate close sounds fade into distant drones. This is meant as an allusion to the image of a slowly departing soul in declining connection with a living individual. The first section appears to cadence, however it is elided with the second section that implies rejection of death. The second section uses fragments from Dylan Thomas’s poem Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night and emphasizes the line “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” To create an implication that denial of death is exhausting, the texts used in this segment are divided into sub-sections, reducing in the number of lines used from the poem each time. The last two statements, which are the two refrains repeated, are sung resignedly in contrast to the frenzied temperament expressed in much of this segment. The music here is constructed from a recurring three note motive in the brass and piano through which intensity is built by increasing dynamics and textural development. For a while, the music is more aggressive, featuring chaotic melodic and harmonic content in the accompaniment, however it is then initiated by a sudden rhythmic decelerando, in which the singer is instructed to sing with exhaustion. The juxtaposition of bowed and mallet percussion and the slowing tempo at the transition is a pivotal point that connects denial to acceptance through fatigue and disorientation. The third text comes from the second stanza of ‘Song’, written by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. The poem is a personal interpretation of what the speaker’s death will be like and is set to a somber, yet calming disposition in this section. The texture and harmonic structure is thinned out significantly through the use of low woodwinds and the piano. Much like the first section, the dissonant harmonies linger for a while until they nearly decay completely, significantly paralleling death as a decaying process. The closing texture involving very soft low timbres mixed with bowed mallets creates a sense of comfort despite the conception of death being a dark and dismal process. Outside of the opening melodic sequence, the harmonic language of The Dying of Light is not based on specific pitch class sets. Rather it uses dissonant relationships and subtle polytonality to induce a collection of moods associated with loss. The texts are connected in that they morph from the perspective of the mourning to that of the dying. On the surface they are differing vantage points yet there appears to be global consciousness of the certainty of death. Although the structure is infused with several contrasting landscapes, the overall character of this composition remains intact, thus expressing the universality of death.

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