Twilight Butterfly

Score title

Twilight Butterfly


Augusta Read Thomas

More about the composer



Program note

"I have set many texts over the years as the basis of vocal and choral works (Absolute Ocean, Daylight Divine, Earth Echoes, In My Sky at Twilight, The Rewaking, Chanting to Paradise, Song in Sorrow, Sun Songs, The Rub of Love) and titles of compositions that offer poetic images (Aureole, Dream Threads, Bubble: Rainbow (spirit level), Capricious Angels, Incantation, Radiant Circles, Resounding Earth). The poetic is always in my music. In writing Twilight Butterfly for light lyric soprano and piano, I began with a mental picture — a little story. I wanted to portray someone, viewing a butterfly fluttering on a deep summer evening beneath the twilight moon, whose heart is awakened as she looks skyward. This imagery became so specific that writing my own lyrics was almost inescapable.

"The musical score uses many adjectives and descriptive phrases to communicate the character and spirit of the music ("slightly chant-like or monotone," "enchanted and earthy," "spirited," "florid," "expressive"). There is a sense of eternal resonance and timelessness throughout, as the sustain pedal is never lifted.

"I have kept in mind several musical considerations beyond the evocative, impressionist nature of the piece. Dynamics are incredibly nuanced (only six dynamic levels are used!). Every minor gradation is sculpted, finely notated and at times encourage multiple realizations ("chose your own dynamic shape"). I sought to provide a comfortable performance environment for the singer. My lyrics integrate words whose open vowel sounds graciously suit the voice and inspire melismatic writing. The piano gives the singer pitches at every entrance. Frequent rubato indications allow the singer delicate rhythmic and interpretive flexibility.

"The musical texture subdivides into three layers that weave together throughout the entire song. Loud, bell-like resonances occur in the lower staff of the piano part. The soprano's vocal line occupies a middle layer. Elegant and sensuous arabesques appear in the top two staves of the piano part. Throughout Twilight Butterfly, the three layers "trigger" one another in a very mobile, flexible and changeable relationship. Piano and singer never do anything together; the constant give-and-take allows even more collaboration because there is no direct synchronization of parts.

"Twilight Butterfly was commissioned by Ravinia Festival President and CEO Welz Kauffman, Program Director Kevin Murphy and Ravinia's Steans Music Institute in honor of the institute's 25th Anniversary in 2013. The world premiere took place at Ravinia on August 12, 2013. Twilight Butterfly is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Kristin Lancino."