Sing no Sad Songs for Me – a cycle of pieces after the poetry of Christina Rossetti.
For voice, oud, yayli tanbur, double-bass and tabla

  1. A Pause of Thought
  2. Sing no Sad Songs for Me 
  3. Fata Morgana
  4. Meeting Mother  
  5. Yet a Little While
  6. Echo 
  7. A Pause 
  8. Forget and Smile 

My imperialist grandfather Henry Beckles Willson was sent in 1918 to Palestine to decommission the Ottoman army. A couple of years later his future daughter-in-law migrated from rural Ireland to London. Not long after that she gave birth to my father.

I wrote Sing no Sad Songs for Me during a year in which my father talked a lot about his mother, his father, and his grandfather. It was also the year of the Brexit vote, so we talked a lot about Europe and its edges. The poetry I drew into the piece was tuned to our conversations about loss and memory, the modal music I wrote was based on Ottoman idiom. (Rather than decommissioning an army, I was recommisioning a repertoire.)

This musical style was also a result of years of study at Labyrinth Musical Workshops in Crete. Between 2010 and 2016, there and in Istanbul, I became gradually familiar with Ottoman classical music, as well as its revival styles developed since the 1970s. I composed several pieces in the genres and styles developed by the Labyrinth community, but Sing no Sad Songs for Me brings something new to that world. Labyrinth composers tend to write short pieces for instrumental combinations. Sing no Sad Songs for Me incorporates English poetry turned into song, and builds a 35-minute work in 8 interconnecting movements. There is a dramatic structure shaping the whole.

For the poetess Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), the threshold between life and death was a constant preoccupation. Many commentators have suggested this focus was a result of Protestant repression, a self-imposed and unhappy attempt to conform to Victorian England. (She was a child of exile, daughter of Italian poet and scholar Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti (1783-1854)). But her poetry plays in beautifully varied ways on the threshold of life and death – in long-term anticipation, hovering before parting, a desire to die, connecting with ghosts…

Sing no Sad Songs for Me will be premiered in London on 30 June by myself, Ciro Montanari, Kostas Tsaroukis and Evgenios Voulgaris.


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