1971, revised 1977
Voice & Orchestra
Folk Group: 2s.sax, mandolin, banjo, accordionOrchestra: 2(= picc).2.2(II=Ebcl).2- bongo dr/tgl/glsp/claves;SD/small susp.cym/xyl/wdbl/tamb/glass wind chimes;TD/large susp cym/marimba/;tam-t/ harps-cel-strings
April 13, 1975
Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
Susan Davenny Wyner, soprano / Buffalo Philharmonic / Michael Tilson Thomas
Commissioned by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with the assistance of the New York State Council on the Arts
Dedicated to Michael Tilson Thomas

Texts from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, and "Against Idleness and Mischief" by Isaac Watts

Alice Work
  • I.The Pool of Tears
  • II.The Mouse's Tale
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Boosey & Hawkes

"Since 'The Pool of Tears' and 'The Mouse's Tale' are from adjacent chapters of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I have connected them with narration, sketching the events occurring in between. The two songs, then, form one complete 'adventure' from the book. All of the narration is pure Carroll; I have only, in certain instances, abridged the text.

" 'The Pool of Tears' is a parody of a poem of Isaac Watts (1975-1748, English theologian and hymn writer) entitled, 'Against Idleness and Mischief.' It is set side by side with Carroll's skillful parody, which begins, 'How doth the little crocodile...'

"In the first part of my setting, I alternate every two lines of the Carroll parody with the four lines of the Watts original. The music is as contrasting as possible: the former being a slow moving, widely spaced, sostenuto melody, played by the orchestra; the latter a fast patter song of stepwise intervals played by the folk group.

"The second part of the setting combines the two musics, quodlibet style, one atop the other. Much of the orchestral texture and color of the song is meant to evoke the glistening, splashing water and was inspired by the line: 'And pours the waters of the Nile/One every golden scale!'

" 'The Mouse's Tale' is perhaps the best-known example in English of emblematic or figured verse: poems printed in such a way that they resemble something related to their subject matter. In the original manuscript of the book, an entirely different poem appears as the tale, in a way a more appropriate one, for it fulfills the mouse's promise to explain why he dislikes cats and dogs, whereas the tale as it appears in the published edition contains no reference to cats.

"My inspiration for setting 'The Mouse's Tale' was the idea of writing music which actually looked on the page like a tail, just as the Carroll text does in the book. As one reads the poem with a special awareness because of its shape, so too, a glance at my score might similarly surprise. It is only a pity that there is really no sound equivalent of a Mouse's tail; the loss being similar to, say, hearing the poem read over the radio.

" 'The Mouse's Tale' is a perpetuo mobile marked prestissimo possible throughout. Though there is a good deal of humor in the text, I wanted the music to suggest as well an implacable inhuman rodent-world of constant ceaseless motion. After all, it is a mouse talking about mouse emotions!

"The movement is in four connected parts: Tale I (the original poem); Tale II (the published poem); Tale III (the original poem); Coda. It is a compendium of canonic, contrapuntal devices ? though they may not be noticed as such at this frantic, breathless pace."

– David Del Tredici

Glitter, splutter, sputter, spatter, the rage of The Mouse and the lyric despondency of Alice in her own pool of tears are the delights of David Del Tredici's Adventures Underground. The work, it seems to me, catches the caprice and controlled pandemonium and the touch of wistfulness in Alice's wonderful dream world, and it's a virtuoso tour de force.

It is very difficult, with the soprano on microphone in leaps from delicate screams above High C to startling chest tones a mile below. The folk band chatters and wails, and the orchestra plays like a mid-air shatter of colored broken glass in a myriad of triple-tongues and staccatos and close-coupled canons in off-rhythms.

It was given a big reception...

...nicely unsettling music of disjunct tones and conflicting speeds...Del Tredici uses jazz sonorities, but with the refinement of careful composition; there is a rich color in the score...
...another stunner, worthy of a place beside Final in the Alice series. Part I, 'The Pool of Tears,' is permeated by one of those insanely memorable cliché-phrases that affect one like the ancient hymn, getting 'within, behind, beside, beneath, above' — all but inside-out. Part II, 'The Mouse's Tale,' is more striking still — surely the best orchestral scherzo written in all these decades without 'genuinely fast music,' its fantastic speed and glassy lightness over the entire timbre and compass of a large orchestra leave the listener as breathless as Alice after her run with the Red Queen. The score of this movement will become a locus classicus for 'eye-music', both in its exhaustive rendition in a musical notation of Carroll's famous typographical joke, but really of course because it is such good ear-music. Del Tredici makes no mistakes; the ineffable ear and utter technical mastery ensure the maximal working of his minimal material, all in the service of a deep dangerous poetic sensibility, realized without forcing or masking, without let or scruple.

Audio (1)