Michael Nyman

Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs

Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs

Argo CD/MC 440 842/2 - 4
1994

Singers
Catherine Boot: soprano
Hilary Summers: alto
Ian Bostridge: tenor

Band
Ensemble Instrumental de Basse-Normandie: violin
David Roach: saxophone
Andrew Findon:saxophone

Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs is a modified version of the score wrtten for Karine Saporta’s opera-ballet La Princesse de Milan during and after the composition of the soundtrack for Peter Greenaways’ film Prospero’s Books, with which it shares its source, The Tempest.
Saporta was choreographer for the film and sometime during 1990 I visited her in Caen to discuss the music for the film’s danced sequences. We both agreed that the almost-complete soundtrack would make an ideal score for an independent dancework. But as things developed, since Saporta chose to make another Tempest-based work, I chose not to use any of the Prospero’s Books material but to start a new score from scratch.
Saporta’s poetics suggested an approach very different from the other evening-length choregraphic works that I’d written in the previous two years -Garden Party (choreographed by Fran?ois Raffinot in 1988) and The Fall of Icarus (choreographed by Fr?d?ric Flamand in 1989). Musically I treated La Princess de Milan as an opera, which is what, in its dance-free existence, it is. But an opera with a difference: its three singers are voices rather than roles, carriers of the text rather than characters. So that, for instance, Prospero may be represented at any point by a soprano, or alto or tenor or a combination of all three; and the voice that ‘represents’ Prospero at any pint can immediately ‘become’ Miranda.
Shakespeare’s text, very heavily and idiosuncratically edited, was divided into seventeen sections which are performed without a break. Sections 1-6 are taken from Act 1 Scene 2, 7 and 8 from Act 2 Scene 1, section 9 from Act 2 Scene 2, 10 from Act 3 Scene 3 and Act 4 Scene 1, section 13 from Act 4 Scene 1 and Act 5 Scene 1 and sections 14, , 16, and 17 from Act 5 Scene 1. I made my selection only from Shakespeare’s spoken text, since I’d already all the songs (apart from ‘The master, the gunner, the boatswain, and I’ which appears in Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs Track 9 - Sometime like apes and ‘The Masque’ in Prospero’s Books. (‘The Masque’ could easily slot in between sections 12 and 13).
For this recording, and for performances of Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs not connected with Karine Saporta’s choreography, has been re-edited and key parts of the text have been reinstated to make the opra more representative of Shakespeare’s oringinal.
What is the role of the composer who chooses (for whatever reason) to (musick( the spoken text of The Tempest and to ‘re-musick’ the island full of ‘moises/sounds and sweet airs’? Music is constantly heard or conjured up in The Tempest. For instance, when Prospero renounces his role as magician/sorcerer, he calls for music (‘But this rough magic/Some heavenly music [...]/To work mine end upon their senses’). But if anything, it is Prospero’s role as coloniser that interests me most. Stephen Greenblatt’s fascinating text ‘Learning to Curse’ (taking its cue from Caliban’s accusatory ‘You taught me language; and my profit on ‘t/Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you/For learning me your language!’) draws attention to the resemblance between Shakespaere /Prospero and the dramatist/colonist as outlined by Terence Hwakes in his book Shakespeare’s Talking Animals (1973). According to Hawkes, a colonist ‘acts essentially as a dramatist. He imposes the ‘shape’ of his own culture, embodied in speech, on the new world, and makes the world recognisable, habitable, ‘natural’, able to speak his language.’ Whereas ‘the dramatist is metaphorically a colonist. His art penetrates new areas of experience, his language expands the boundaries of our culture and makes the new territory over in its own image. His ‘raids on the inarticulate’ open up new worlds for the imagination.’
And (again) what is the role of the composer?
La Princesse de Milan was first performed in H?rouville-Saint-Clair in June 1991 with the Ensemble Instrumental de Basse-Normandie under Dominique Debart, with the vocal parts sung by three of the dancers.

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