songs of an egyptian princess  

for soprano &orchestra



Soprano solo 2[1pic]011/1211/T/2perc/hp/str (43221)

Songs of an Egyptian Princess is composed from an excerpt of the play True Mummy, written by playwright and my good friend Tom Cone. The songs are narrations by a young Egyptian Princess about her brief life, premature death, and the "re-purposing" of her ashes as varnish for a Turner painting. This composition attempts to portray primordial emotions of fear and anxiety; these nebulous feelings are made even more poignant through the innocent voice of the child Princess.

I have composed musical references, archetypes that represent what the Princess goes through in each song: her head bound in linen, a procession, playing hide and seek, preparation for mummification, taken by grave robbers and shipped to England, burnt in a London warehouse. These references are absorbed by slowly moving spheres of portentous strings harmonies, whilst harp and percussion carry out tinkling garlands within a static modal framework.


The melodies of the Princess, a soprano, are expanded by shadow players. These are instrumental doubles that anticipate and extend the pitches of the soloist. The doubles are a solo violin (later cello), piccolo and a harp, instruments accompanying the Princess to the afterlife. This technique of vocal expansion creates the suggestion of endless melodic lines that grow from the orchestral accompaniment into the vocalist, who in her turn then passes them back to the orchestra.

The work was commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the role of the Egyptian Princess is interpreted by soprano Stephanie Domingues. The work is dedicated to Tom’s 65th birthday on March 2012.

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Tom passed away two weeks before the premiere, which was dedicated to his inspiring memory.

Our colleague and good friend of Tom’s, poet Colin Browne, wrote about the premiere of the Songs of an Egyptian Princess:

‘Tom and Edward chose four texts from the “Princess Scenes,” but rather than leave them as four discrete songs, they integrated them into the propulsive, provocative spine of a dramatic, eighteen-minute encounter with the thundering face of transformation itself. The Princess’ alteration from one shape into another, from one state into another-a transfiguration she welcomes-requires a violent metamorphosis. From the long opening chords played by the strings-introduced and accompanied by tolling chimes, through a series of crucial dissonances, to the cataclysmic moments represented by a chorus of brass, cymbals and drums, “Songs” articulates the urgency of her desire to break through to another dimension.’


‘Perhaps we should hear the echoes of Britten in Top’s score as a reflection on, or a refraction of, the potential of the inner nature of the earthly form that’s bound to the rock of fallen time.’

Colin Browne, Tom & Coyote, ti-TCR (The Capilano Review) a web folio, number 4, spring 2012, pp. 24-30.