Illustrated Alice is a setting of two poem/scenes from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. At the beginning and end of the piece is a simulation of the pre-concert tuning ritual (slightly formalized in each instance into a palindrome, that is, something which foes backwards from its center, as do the words 'noon' and 'madam'). This is meant as a suggestion of the 'real' world ('dull reality') from which Alice escapes down the rabbit-hole and to which she returns at the end of the story. Both songs derive much of their material from these opening sounds) particularly the open fifths in the strings).
I. Speak Roughly / Speak Gently
This poem is taken from the Pig and Pepper chapter of Alice. This is a particularly bizarre scene, with the poem being a sort of lullaby which the Duchess sings as she alternatingly nurses and violently shakes her baby (which later turns into a pig!). During the second verse, the baby begins to howl.
I have tried to capture all the brutishness of the scene, to emphasize its decidedly non-lullaby quality! The poem Speak Roughly is also a parody of another poem which was well-known to Carroll's audience; Speak Gently by David Bates. It reflects a totally opposite feeling, being all Victorian sweetness, gentleness, and sentiment. Part of the charm of Carroll's poem depends upon out knowing it is very similar to, yet totally different from, this other poem. Hence, I have given Speak Gently an extremely delicate, transparent setting.
As the two poems represent two extremes of feeling with very little middle ground, so too does the music, which is either brutally loud or whimperingly soft. As a further enhancement of the contrasts, I have used different kinds of amplification for each poem. During Speak Roughly, the soprano sings through a bull-horn which grossly distorts, and in Speak Gently, she sings with an echo-chamber effect ? which gives the sound a particularly haunting, far-away quality. The echo-chamber also emphasizes the fact that Speak Gently is not really part of the Carroll scene, that it is, as it were, an allusion made audible.
II. Who Stole the Tarts?
This poem is taken from the last chapter of the bok and is the White Rabbit's very important deposition of evidence against the Knave of Hearts, who stands accused of having stolen some tarts. The entire court is assembled ? the King, the Queen and Alice. However, during its six verses and confusion of pronouns, the poem makes very little sense!! My setting is one which emphasizes seriousness of the presentation, rather than the nonsense of the poem itself. The music begins softly and gradually builds through the verses to ever grander and grander statements of always the same theme. The music treats the words as the White Rabbit must have thought of them and wanted them to be: grand and impressive before the grandest, most impressive audience in Wonderland. (The text of this second song I have subsequently set again, in totally different fashion, as Aria I of Final Alice).