Girl in the Snow (2017)
Soprano & piano
A fairy-tale in eleven songs on texts by Scott Ordway.
Girl in the Snow is a set of eleven songs depicting the sensory and spiritual re-awakening of a young girl after an unspecified dislocation causes her to forget everything about her life except for the capacity to feel love.
The work was inspired by my brief encounter with Edvard Grieg’s Barnlige Sange Op. 61, which I heard performed at the composer’s home near Bergen, Norway in July 2016. The elegant simplicity of these short pieces moved me to consider the genre of children’s songs more broadly, both in the strict sense—as songs written to be sung or heard by children, such Grieg’s—and as a type of stylized concert work such as Schumann’s Kinderszenen or Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye.
In this genre, one in which adults reflect on an idealized childhood through artistic creation, the profound (but flawed) act of remembering brings us closer to the endless wonder and unconditional affection that is the domain of the very young.
In Girl in the Snow, the protagonist awakes to find herself “alone, but not afraid” in a cabin in a snow-covered wood. She has no memory of who she is, or how she came to this remote place. Her only feeling is a boundless love, but she has no immediate object for this feeling.
Through a series of vignettes that are inspired by the pictorial language of children’s books, the girl ventures outside and discovers her world anew through the plants and animals of the forest. Gradually, she finds that a beautiful world awaits her, and is a worthy object of her abundant love.
Along the way, she sings four simple “memory plays” that are based on texts adapted from St. Augustine’s Confessions, in which he creates evocative physical metaphors to describe the “palace of memory.” As the girl sings in the shining forest, she continues toward a place of fuller remembering, and a more complete understanding of her home in the world.