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A Spark Lights the Void Within (2009) for soprano and string orchestra (or piano and double bass)

Categories Chamber Music, chamber orchestra, Composer Portrait Concert, conducting, Links: Audio, music for strings, performance, Piano, Song Cycle, Vocal

This song cycle was written for, and premiered by soprano Ruth Hopkins.


A Spark Lights the Void Within was written in memory of Lydia Press.  I wrote the texts of the three recitatives in the wake of Lydia’s passing away, and later chose the Cavafy and Shelley poems to accompany my own.  Southampton University Strings premiered the work, and I later performed the version with double bass and piano at National Taiwan University in Taipei, and at St Michael’s Church Southampton, while the version with string orchestra was revived for a performance in Birmingham Cathedral.  The links below are to the latter two versions, first the Birmingham performance with string ensemble (I’m conducting), then the Southampton version with piano and double bass (I’m playing the piano).

Bandcamp links:

Version with string orchestra:



Version with piano and double bass:



A Spark Lights the Void Within

i. Recitative: “Rupture”

I wake in the night, pain in my stomach, breathing as if I’d been crying:
You must be some electricity in the night’s clouds come to visit me.

You vied with the world’s beauty, but it was too strong for you.
Before and after that hard instant stretches silken eternity.

ii.  Boy as Statue
Greek Text: from In a town of Osroene
C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933), translation by the composer

Yesterday, around midnight, they brought us our friend Remon, wounded in a tavern fight.
Through the windows which we’d left open, the moon illuminated his beautiful body on the bed.
We’re a mixture here: Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, Medes; such also is Remon.
Last night, however, as the moon illuminated his beautiful face,
Our minds went back to Plato’s Charmides.

iii.  Recitative: “Aside”

Marshall of the flowers’ blooming, some royalty imparting grace to nature:
When you left, your music resolved into the stringent song of birds who pretend they never knew you.

How strange!  The world persists in beauty in your absence.

iv.  On a Faded Violet
P.B. Shelley (1792-1822)

The colour from the flower is gone
Which like thy sweet eyes smiled on me;
The odour from the flower is flown
Which breathed of thee and only thee!

A shrivelled, lifeless, vacant form.
It lies on my abandoned breast,
And mocks the heart which yet is warm,
With cold and silent rest.

I weep, — my tears revive it not!
I sigh, — it breathes no more on me;
Its mute and uncomplaining lot
Is such as mine should be.

v.  Recitative: “Severance”

So, electricity, who are you now?
Now I feel the bitter sin of dithering; I question all I do because of something electrical,
something not even there.

You were there once, Spark, very much there;
you were strongly alive;
your strength, the strength of the firmament, the changeless coasts and stalwart rocks.

But we know the stars and coasts are secretly eager to change;
one never swims twice in the sea of life.

Though, I suspect, some trace of motion in me (like the lapping of waves, or the wind’s kiss),
is the strong kick of your butterly presence.


Soprano Ruth Hopkins