Sapphic, Op. 35

Soprano, 12 players (fl, ob, bcl, tpt, trb, 2perc, 2 vln, vla, vlc, cb), 1991
duration 10'
composed in 1991



first performed by Sara Stowe, Guildhall New Music Ensemble, conducted by James Wood, 19 December 1991, Queenswood School

also performed 7 March 1992, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, UK


Archive recordings exist of both performances.

programme note:

Sapphic was written especially for the GuildhaII New Music Ensemble and was premiered by them at the SPNM seminar on microtonality held last December; the soprano soloist was Sara Stowe. The work uses the basic form of the verse-form whose invention is attributed to the poet Sappho, who lived in the sixth century BC. Each metrical foot, or metron, is emphasised by the soprano's use of a pair of small stones, which are struck together in the appropriate rhythm.

The text is taken from the Loeb edition of Sappho's work. Since almost nothing of her reputedly extensive output survives complete, the bulk of the volume is taken up with commentaries, allusions and references in subsequent Greek and Latin literature to the work, personality and reputation of this long-vanished figure. The fact that her own work is fragmentary suggested to me the use of these commentaries in a similar manner, ordering and juxtaposing parts of them to give a coherent picture; only the final section uses a text by Sappho herself. In translation it reads: “Love overwhelmed me as the wind on the mountain strikes the oak tree.”

Much of the music is slow in order that the quarter-tones used can be clearly heard; the ensemble is divided into two groups flanking a third consisting of oboe, soprano and viola.

Justin Connolly


"effective more for its unusual dramatic timing than a particularly integrated use of microtones."
Michael Zev Gordon, The Musical Times , Jun., 1992, Vol. 133, No. 1792, Choirs and Trends (Jun., 1992), p. 303

other comments:

Connolly did not complete the second movement, and no sketches survive. The work was however considered "perfect as it is" by James Wood, the original conductor.