Quiet Songs

Quiet SongsQuiet Songs was written for Bastard Assignments’ performance at Aldeburgh Festival in 2019. Written for the composer to perform, it sets live detuned viola against a constructed video part of silenced and manipulated vocal and viola performances by the composer. Starting with a simple mirrored relationship between the two (the viola provides the sound for the silent vocal performance onscreen), they quickly take different but related paths, coinciding here and there throughout the piece.

The viola uses very few traditional playing techniques. Using scordatura (the strings are retuned to F-E-A-G), a wide range of playing positions (near, on and behind the bridge all the way to the fine-tuners and over the fingerboard all the way to the scroll); creating white noise by bowing the body of the instrument in various places), and noise effects.

The audio in the video part uses recordings made in the composer’s studio – most notably via a contact microphone positioned on the window, simultaneously capturing the sound of the performance in the studio and the sounds of the street outside.

If you’re interested in learning about the development of this work, there’s a playlist of work in progress sessions and vlog episodes on YouTube and selected images and updates on Instagram.

dot drip line line 8918: EDGE

Caitlin Rowley performs dot drip line line 8918: EDGE at Festival of New
Caitlin Rowley performs dot drip line line 8918: EDGE at Snape Maltings Festival of New. Photo by Matt Jolly

“a vividly articulated, yet wordless narrative which evoked the world of Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody. It was a piece which managed to combine amusement and anxiety” – Planet Hugill, 24 May 2019

This piece was created from the process outlined in dot drip line line. It was created to be performed by the composer (although it can be performed by others too) and explores the edges of the voice and physical edges through extended vocal technique and physical characterisation.

The score of this piece is still under development.

While based on dot drip line line, this is a standalone piece and does not require performers to complete the notebook process in the original work.

More information about dot drip line line can be found here »

dot drip line line 8317: Fall

This piece is a score which was created from the process outlined in dot drip line line. It was created for a performance at Bath Spa University with Open Scores Lab and explores ideas of gravity and the action of natural forces.

dot drip line line 8317: Fall is for four performers, one of whom (the ‘dripper’) will need to be equipped with an amplified jar of water and a small pipette.

While based on dot drip line line, this is a standalone piece and does not require performers to complete the notebook process in the original work.

More information about dot drip line line can be found here »

dot drip line line

Text score for a performed piece of any duration for any number of performers.

This piece is currently in development. At present, the intention is:

The score for this piece contains a simple text which each performer should use to create an entire notebook of variants which will serve as a handbook of ideas from which to develop a live performance version of the initial score. The notebooks should be displayed (open at a single spread) where the audience can see them at the performance. The variants may be drawn (using wet and/or dry media), collaged, described, included as video or audio of a performance interpretation (performers may want to consider the use of QR codes to include these digitally recorded versions in their books), or any other form or media that comes to mind.

The final performance may take any form the performer chooses. Performances that are created as scores become separate but related works, which can be performed in future by performers who have not undertaken the notebook process.

Current scores developed from dot drip line line are:

Crossing Dartmoor

A large-scale song cycle for tenor and piano, based on the Dartmoor textworks of British sculptor Richard Long, Crossing Dartmoor is a long-term project which will eventually consist of around 26 performable items. The singer chooses their own path through the material provided, with a minimum of five pieces constituting a ‘complete’ performance of the cycle. As such, Crossing Dartmoor is currently complete enough to provide several variants of such a performance, consisting as it presently does of around 40 minutes of audio material plus videos.

The cycle also exists as an arrangement for mezzo-soprano and guitar.

Full information and recordings of Crossing Dartmoor are available on the project’s dedicated website at crossingdartmoor.uk.

Preview the score of Crossing Dartmoor (click on the score to view full-screen):

Two Fish

Commissioned by Rebecca Cohen in 2014, Two Fish was written in response to a brief for an amusing song or group of songs with a total duration of approximately 4 minutes for soprano and piano. Having chosen texts from the 17th century fishing manual The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton, we worked to create two contrasting songs that reflect characteristics of the fish described. At some point during the composition process, I began to associate the fish in the texts with characters from Victorian melodrama. The music correspondingly took a melodramatic turn and both songs abound with frills and flourishes.

‘Adonis’, the first song of the pair, represents the heroine of Victorian melodrama. Beautiful and pure-hearted, this fish is the personification of innocence and love. While I was unable to precisely identify the fish described by Walton, I discovered that the herring is sometimes described as ‘The Darling of the Sea’. I learned that the herring, a fish which lives on plankton, is preyed on by a range of creatures. Specifically, I found photographs showing herring schools being attacked from above by gulls and from below by whales lunging from the depths. With the text being essentially description, with no innate drama, I used the idea of predators from below and above to build some drama into the piano part. As the piano part became more dramatic, the vocal line retreated into a simplicity informed by the idea of church chant.

‘Sargus’ represents the morally corrupt villain of Victorian melodrama. The text, the rather loose descendent of a French original based on an ancient description, describes an unnatural sexual liaison – between the Sargus fish and a goat. The mixture of description and purple-prose hyperbole in this text suggested the use of strong contrasts in this piece. The melodic material for the opening derived from a cipher on the fish’s name, while the central section was composed intuitively.

Preview the score of Two Fish (click on score to open full-screen):

Vignettes of Home

Written for a collaborative English Song project run by Jess Walker at Trinity Laban in February 2014, these four tiny songs were composed in a single night (18 February 2014) to texts contributed by four different singers on the project.

The texts describe what ‘home’ means to the writers and the songs each combine singing and speaking. The approach to both vocal lines and accompaniments is very free. Each song is about 30 seconds in duration, giving a total running time of about 2 minutes.

  • ‘After Rain’, for Melanie Harikrishna
  • ‘Returning Home’, for Amon-Ra Twilley
  • ‘Christmas’, for Deborah Miller
  • ‘Sycamore Trees’, for Lucy Miller-White

Drowning Songs

Written for the Trinity Laban chamber choir, Drowning Songs for unaccompanied SATB chamber choir was commissioned for a programme of nautical-themed works including Judith Bingham’s Salt in the Blood and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Full Fathom Five.

It is an evocation of the experience of drowning and a remembrance of those who have drowned. The text consists of a fragment of the psalm De Profundis, the names of some of the seamen listed as drowned in circumstances other than shipwreck in the British Merchant Navy records for the period between July 1881 and June 1882, and additional text devised by the composer.

The opening of the piece draws on a description of bodies sinking down through deep water, “falling like dolls”, given in the book All the Drowned Sailors by Raymond B. Lech. Depth and the action of the waves are recurring ideas throughout the piece, with the recurrence of the opening gesture and the susurration of whispered and spoken names of sailors rising and falling.

Preview the score of Drowning Songs (click on the score to open full-screen):

Sepiascape with Grey

Sepiascape with Grey is a graphic score commissioned by Valentina Pravodelov for her MMus vocal recital in January 2014. Destined to be performed in the context of a programme of darkly urban popular music by bands such as Massive Attack, Portishead and Joy Division with a backing band of guitars, keyboards, backing vocals and drums, it incorporates a short text which mashes up a single line from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland with words selected by the composer:

under the brown fog of a winter dawn
unreal city

The score was created using sepia acrylic ink (using a dip pen with copperplate nib, and as a wash) and black watercolour overlaid with digitally created handwritten text.

It is dedicated to Valentina Pravodelov.

Parlour Game

Parlour Game is a conceptual, improvisatory Christmas piece for three or more singing performers (either acting singers or singing actors) with a sense of adventure and a taste for silliness. It is based on the children’s game Chinese Whispers, in which text is whispered from player to player, becoming corrupted and less and less intelligible as it moves through the group.

The ‘score’ of Parlour Game consists of a page of instructions and 8 slips of paper which contain four graphic suggestions for melodies and four suggestions of ways of speaking. This is the foundation of the piece. The first performance was augmented by readings from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the provision of ‘rumours’ to the audience in handmade paper fortune cookies (made with Christmas origami paper!). The rumours were all lines taken from A Christmas Carol, but could be anything that fits the occasion, and of course, audience members can always make up their own rumours.

The piece can run for any duration, although less than about 7 minutes would probably not be effective. The first performance ran for 12 minutes.

Parlour Game: First performance

Parlour Game: First performance

Parlour Game: First performance


a ‘striking dramatic take on the familiar tale’ (review by Robert Hugill)

Breadcrumbs performed by Charlotte Richardson (soprano) and Clemmie Curd (cor anglais), directed by Omar Shahryar, at Kings Place for Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, 9 August 2014.
Breadcrumbs is a dramatic monologue for unaccompanied soprano, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

It was composed for soprano Julia Weatherley’s Master of Music recital in 2013 and was designed to explore ideas and material to be developed into a chamber opera in 2014.

The text is by the composer and incorporates material from Eastern European fairy tales, Dante’s Inferno and the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The singer plays the role of 15-year-old Gretel, alone in the woods. The back-story to the piece is that after their father abandoned Hansel and Gretel (rather than kill them as his wife had ordered him to), Hansel (aged about 12 or 13) went to try to find the breadcrumb trail and got lost. She is angry with him and feels responsible for her little brother. After an optional cor anglais introduction, Breadcrumbs begins with Gretel’s scathing indictment of Hansel’s idea of tracking the path back to their home with breadcrumbs. With nightfall, she expresses her fear of being alone in the dark and with nothing else to do, she relates her whimsical mental wanderings around the image of “a darkness a spoon could stand up in”. Finally, she sees a light through the trees, smells gingerbread and hears her brother – can they have found the safe haven she craves?

An early version of Breadcrumbs was workshopped by Jane Manning at Tete a Tete opera festival in Hammersmith in August 2013, and the completed work was first performed by Julia Weatherley (soprano) and Clemmie Curd (cor anglais) in September 2013 [view video]. In August 2014, Breadcrumbs was featured as a free fringe event in the 2014 Tête à Tête opera festival at Kings Place, performed by Charlotte Richardson (soprano) and Clemmie Curd (cor anglais) and directed by Omar Shahryar, and also performed at the Barbican [view: rehearsal video teaser, production photos].

Blue Spiders

Blue Spiders is based on a poem of the same name by the South African/Australian poet Don Rowley.

The work does not set the whole of the poem, but rather takes an evocative fragment of it while reflecting elements that were cut from the text in the music itself. For example, the section “I am thick against you, full of ire” appears as the stabbing chords which occasionally break up the more fluid motion of the rest of the piece, in both vocal parts and accompaniment.

Blue Spiders was written for The Peacock Ensemble and will be premiered by them at Blackheath Halls in September 2013.

Blue Spiders

by Don Rowley

My blue spiders, spinning silk so fine,
Invisible filaments among flowers.
Cluster of gems, blue, azure, sapphirine,
You spin and spin.Your webs tremble with tears. I wonder at you and your desire
As still you spin and lie in wait for hours.

Oh how your gorgeous bodies glow and shine,
Each one unique, each swinging with its peers!
I am thick against you, full of ire,
Yet weak. You cast your webs about those towers
I raised. They fell. They were no longer mine,
Each tower a shell moved now with shadow-fears.
Spiders like gems, blue, azure, sapphirine.

To Fortune

Written for American composer and singer Charles Turner for February 2012’s Lucky Dip album project. Nancy Rexford plays the piano on this recording.

Charles suggested the text for this short song, Robert Herrick’s To Fortune:

Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, smiling yet ;
Tear me to tatters, yet I’ll be
Patient in my necessity.
Laugh at my scraps of clothes, and shun
Me, as a fear’d infection ;
Yet, scare-crow-like, I’ll walk as one
Neglecting thy derision.

Three Whitman Songs

Three Whitman Songs is, oddly enough, a set of three songs to texts by Walt Whitman for contralto and piano. The first and last songs of the set – ‘Hast never come to thee an hour’ and ‘This is thy hour’ – are for both performers, while the second song, ‘Come forward, o my soul’ is for unaccompanied voice and is followed by a brief interlude for solo piano.

The vocal range this work is intended for is perhaps a little lower than average – between them the songs cover a compass from E-flat at the top of the treble stave, down to F below middle C. While this is an unusual range, it happens to be that of the composer (for once I wanted to write something I could sing without transposing it down a fourth!)

The texts are as follows:

Hast never come to thee an hour

Edited from Hast never come to thee an hour

Hast never come to thee an hour,
A sudden gleam, divine, precipitating,
bursting all these bubbles, fashions, wealth.
Those eager business aims, books, politics, art, amours,
To utter nothingness.

Come forward, O my soul

Extracted from Proud Music of the Storm

Come forward, O my soul, and let the rest retire,
Listen, lost not, it is toward thee they tend,
Parting the midnight, entering my slumber chamber,
For thee they sing and dance O soul.

This is thy hour

Edited from A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour, o soul, [thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,]
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, death and the stars

Red Drops, Scarlet Heat

Red drops, scarlet heat started out as a piece I was writing for the Percy Grainger Museum’s annual composition competition*. The terms of the 2002 competition stated that entries should use material from one of a number of set pieces composed by Grainger. One of these works was Grainger’s The Immovable Do which is based entirely around a drone on C.

I wanted to see how I could most expressively use a drone in a vocal/choral work. Taking Walt Whitman’s beautiful but rather chilling ‘Trickle drops’ (from Leaves of Grass) as my text, I worked to create a dramatic piece from fairly limited musical resources. I experimented a little with the addition of an optional glockenspiel part during rehearsals, but ultimately removed this from the work. The overall effect of the work is quite dark, but passionate.

The individual vocal parts should not be difficult for any moderately experienced singer, but the work does require a very stable sense of pitch – not only to maintain the drone, but to correctly place dissonances and leaps.

*It never made it to the competition as the final version did not meet the minimum duration imposed by the competition rules.

Remembrances of Half-Forgotten Dead People

These three songs for high voice & piano take their texts from the 1911 edition of the Petit Larousse Illustré. These have been set as they appear in the dictionary (with certain minor changes to preserve clarity of meaning), and were chosen for the different ways in which time has treated the subjects of the entries:

I. Lament: Louis-César-Joseph Ducornet (1806-1856). French painter. ‘Born without arms, he painted with his feet’. Ducornet has by now been apparently totally forgotten, to the extent that his name does not even appear in modern 20-volume encyclopaediae.

II. Funeral march: Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896). French composer. He was chosen because while he was extremely popular during his lifetime, his works did not seem to be performed often even though his name was known. This was from my perspective (1990s Australia!) when the work was written – it seems that in Europe his music is still performed.

III. Elegy: Marie de Flavigny, Comtesse d’Agoult (1805-1976). French writer. Quite well known during her lifetime, she wrote under the nom de plume Daniel Stern. She is best known now as Liszt’s mistress.

The performance here is by soprano Angela Hicks, who sang Remembrances of Half-Forgotten Dead People in the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich on 23 January 2014.

Two Songs of Gerard Manley Hopkins

One of my earliest acknowledged works, this piece consists of a setting for unaccompanied soprano of Manley Hopkins’ The Windhover and a setting for soprano and cello of Pied Beauty.


Erik Satie’s ‘Chanson’ is the first of his Trois autres mélodies, written in 1887. This arrangement, for voice, vibraphone and tape by Caitlin Rowley was commissioned by American composer Adam Di Angelo and completed in 2009. The tape part uses recordings from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara (with permission) as well as environmental sounds recorded in Ealing (London) and Brussels by the composer.

Not wanting to greatly change the beauty of Satie’s original music, the aim was for the tape part to underscore the feelings of fleeting pleasures, and the melancholy aspect of J.P. Contamine de Latour’s text, while the vibraphone and voice present the melody and accompaniment almost unaltered from the original.

The score comes with a CD of two versions of the tape part: one with and one without the vibraphone part, enabling either easy solo practice for the singer, or performance when a vibraphone may be difficult to come by.

On Harrowdown Hill

On Harrowdown Hill was composed in about 5 weeks for English National Opera’s Mini Operas competition in 2012. It sets a libretto by Shaun Gardiner, written to a brief story by Will Self, both created especially for the competition.

**Now available to download from Bandcamp! You can pay what you want for it (or nab it for free) – all money raised will go towards my continuing composition education. Click to get your copy now!**

I was drawn to Gardiner’s rather Beckettesque libretto because I felt it conveyed the sorrow and bleakness of the central character of the Inspector, a good man who is thrown to the wolves by the government and the press. The original synopsis was based upon the true story of David Kelly, the UN Weapons Inspector who reportedly committed suicide in 2003, and Gardiner’s script hinted at the dark future of the Inspector in a way which I found intriguing.

Written for bass-baritone (The Inspector), counter-tenor/alto (The Advisor), tenor (The Journalist), chorus of Journalists, electric violin, flute, piano, strings and percussion, the opera was recorded in July 2012 from various parts of the Northern hemisphere by:

  • Charles Turner – The Inspector (USA)
  • Andrew Pickett – The Advisor (Canada)
  • Nick Allen – The Journalist (UK)
  • Chrissie Caulfield – electric violin (UK)
  • Caitlin Rowley – flute (UK)
  • Other parts were produced using Garritan Personal Orchestra virtual instruments

Read about the composition of On Harrowdown Hill in the journal