= Origami Letters – Nigel Morgan

Origami Letters

Nine songs for tenor voice and piano/string quartet.

In the Spring of 2009 I received a packet of letters written on sheets of coloured and patterned Origami paper. In a world where the art and practice of letter-writing seems to be diminishing in favour of the e-mail and the text-message, the mobile call and the Skype Internet exchange, an envelope of letters was a treat, a rare gift. A dear friend, now a textile artist of some distinction, was completing an academic assignment whilst staying in her childhood home. Over three days and two nights she wrote letters on the back of origami paper full of gentle observations of her home, springtime, of children, of family celebrations, and walks under the broad skies and panoramas of Lincolnshire.

I returned this gift with a sequence of poems meaning to set them to music for tenor voice and string quartet. The scoring was inspired by The Juliet Letters, a collaborative song cycle devised by the Brodsky Quartet for Elvis Costello. My setting was completed later in 2009 for the tenor Mark Padmore and the Brodsky Quartet. But like Paul Hindemith and his Das Marienleben settings of Rilke I was unsatisfied by this setting and in 2014 rewrote the whole work. Instead of resetting the poems ‘as is’ I made quite substantial changes and cuts, not just to the text as a whole but the way I treated the flow of words, this time using repetitions and re-orderings to create emphasis and musical effects.

From Origami Letters VII for tenor voice and piano.

Musically, the score was wholly recomposed using the parametric compositon environment
Opusmodus to generate a harmonic ‘world’ unique to my music. The work was planned in two versions: for voice and keyboard; for voice and string quartet. An aesthetic concept similar to the contemplative web artefact Fifteen Images was adopted, designing a score particularly suited to the art of the improvising pianist who is encouraged to treat the harmonic language with considerable freedom in choice of registration, voicing and figuration. Hence, the relatively simple four-part, some might say four-square, texture.

The favoured instrument for the keyboard version of this song sequence is the Fender Rhodes electric piano used in many of Nigel Morgan’s major compositions with voices, notably BBC commissions Conversations in Colour and Schizophonia.

Dynamics, articulations, tempo and expressive markings are kept to a minimum throughout. Where they exist they should be considered as starting points, no more.

From Origami Letters VII for tenor voice and string quartet.

The performers may extend their interpretation with improvised or recomposed passages ‘playing’ with words and music with a gentle spirit. My guide to this approach has been vocal improvisations of the remarkable Lauren Kinsella and piano artistry of Matthew Robinson for whom my extended song Gifts from the Ebb Tide and song cycle Tide Marks has been created. This should not deter singers with a classical art song background to perform Origami Letters ‘as written’.


You can read the original version of Nigel Morgan’s poem in the e-book publication Words for Music.


Origami Letters for tenor and keyboard [pdf]Origami Letters for tenor and string quartet [pdf]

Performance parts for string quartet [zip]