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All Birtwistle's music is basically a single melodic line which is filled out or “shadowed”. In his most recent scores, these basic lines have become much more self-evident and lyrical, and nowhere is this more evident than in the soaring lines he wrote for Morgan le Fay in the opera Gawain and in these four songs which were written in its wake. The opera touches on many things, but one of the most important is man's relationship with nature. Birtwistle chose to set these translations of poems by the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski, because like the opera they deal not only with the power of nature but also “the year's dead end”, the depth of winter, the time when everything seems dormant and still. But as the soprano's soaring and often ecstatic lines indicate, this stillness is a cause for celebration. The realm of peace is spiritual as well as physical.
The first poem “Ashes of one world” speaks of one world crumbling into another. In the second, we are told that when between two worlds we lose direction: “What pulls you upward? Is it your weight? What pulls you down? Is it your wings?”
The third, “Heart of Rain”, says that in the stillness “the tears lose meaning”. Finally, in the fourth, we learn that “in the whole world there is nothing but the scent of red clover and nothing more”.