Work of the Week - Steve Martland: Street Songs
The Proms Chamber Music series presents its second programme on the afternoon of Monday 23 July, which includes Steve Martland’s Street Songs. This performance of vocal music by Tenebrae, one of the UK’s leading chamber choirs, is directed by Nigel Short with marimba player Rob Farrer.
Originally commissioned in 1998 for the celebrated male vocal sextet The King Singers and percussionist Evelyn Glennie, Street Songs is a collection of settings of traditional children’s rhymes adapted by the composer; ‘Oranges and Lemons’, ‘Green Gravel’, ‘Jenny Jones’, and ‘Poor Roger’. Martland composed this version for 8-part mixed choir and marimba in 2003 and it was premiered the same year by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir, with percussionist Colin Currie.
The four movements of Street Songs were written to be performed in any order, and individual movements may also be performed separately. Each song is about death and resurrection, a recurring theme in traditional English folk music and art. Although he uses original texts, Martland’s music removes them from their traditional framework, emphasising asymmetrical rhythmic patterns and blending the sound of the choir seamlessly with that of the marimba. No pre-existing melodies are quoted apart from a small reference to the famous ‘Oranges and Lemons’ tune. Martland states:
The texts are used structurally. By repetition of words and phrases overlapping between the various voices, the ‘story’ or subject at hand, is both objectified as well as ritualised.
Following on from Street Songs is Martland’s Sea Songs, settings of more texts collected from the English Folk Song and Dance Society, which was premiered in March.