After Nina for clarinet, cello and piano, opus 73 (2007)
After Nina was composed in the first half of 2007 for the Endeavour Trio (Paul Dean, Trish O’Brien and Stephen Emmerson). It is a nine minute work which was written at the same time as my chamber opera, The Children’s Bach. The work is a slow and lyrical study based around a pattern of low chords heard first in the piano.
The title and the mood of the piece refer to the Nina Simone version of the song, Strange Fruit, with its sparse piano accompaniment. Strange Fruit is the anti-lynching civil rights song written in the 1930s by Abel Meeropol and then made famous by Billie Holiday.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
I have often been asked why it is the Nina Simone version of the song that interested me rather than the more well-known version by Billie Holiday. It is the relatively detached style of Simone’s version – the limited use of overt emotionalism when dealing with a topic that so easily invites it. Whilst Simone does give vent towards the end, her style is mostly sparse and allows the text to stand.
That idea of restraint as embodied in the use of the stalking, low chords was important to me at this time because I was also dealing with unsettling and emotive material in the subject and text of The Children’s Bach. The question in my mind was how to allow the text to be heard and its impact kept in clear focus with the music still suggesting and adding more than the text could provide on its own.
© Andrew Schultz, 2013