Fragment 96 "Atthis"








version 1: sop; pno, sop; vln I; vln II; vla; vcl; cbs; perc (1 player); pno


c. 10'

commissioned by

premiered by

Emily Brown Gibson, soprano, and the composer on piano at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, Oxford, UK


Fragment 96 "Atthis"

a chamber artsong on poetry by Sappho as translated by Emily Garber

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Version for soprano, two violins, viola, cello, contrabass (optional), percussion (1 player), and piano premiered at New Music On The Bayou in 2024.

Version for soprano and piano premiered 2018 by Emily Brown Gibson at Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building, Oxford University, with the composer on piano.

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Program Note

Over the course of “Fragment 96”, it is revealed that the obsessive love the narrator holds for the woman Atthis is, like any obsession, really all about herself. Focus shifts for the narrator as the guise of repeated “you”s becomes “I”s and one harmonic landscape peels away to reveal another secretly operating the whole time.

The melody of the work is made up of repeating fragments, “hooks” ascribed to specific words, syntactical structures, and dramatic images. I generated these fragments by first composing one long melody for the words as written out, through-composed, then using musical ideas to link these smaller units together, creating meaning through repetition and association.

I had the joy of working directly with the translator of this Sappho text, Emily Garber, to ensure that every word was chosen for maximum musicality: for instance, emphasizing the repetitive “And the” structure for the images of light, dew, and roses. I initially requested that the term “rosy-fingered” be retranslated into something more pleasant to sing, but Emily pointed out the significance of the specific phrase “rosy-fingered”, how in oral story-telling certain ideas are inextricably linked to brief descriptors to facilitate retention. “Rosy-fingered” is one such epithet of sorts used exclusively to describe the dawn; Sappho’s use of it in this text to describe the moon is therefore very significant and had to be retained.

This pairing of nouns with epithets, structurally integral in the oral canon, enormously influenced the composition of this piece, which pairs dramatic concepts with musical “epithets”. For example, a fun one to follow is the bass drum heard every time the word“You” is sung, or the descending scale of “wandering, gentle” leading all the way down to “Atthis”.

~ Jake Landau

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