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The North Wind was a woman by DAVID BRUCE


I have been lucky enough to spend some time recently collaborating with the writer Aimee Bender. By chance I came across Aimee's extraordinary collection of short stories 'Willful Creatures' and I instantly felt we shared many artistic goals and ideals. Aimee's stories are often described as 'modern fairytales', they have something of the tone of a fairytale (a generalised sense of place and time, a willingness to incorporate the magical or supernatural, and often, a rather savage streak), but are unmistakably modern in tone, and a million miles from the Victorian sensibilities and morals of Hans Andersen or the Brothers Grimm. Aimee creates unique and extraordinary worlds, full of color and magic, tangential to our own, but somehow, in an often witty and understated way, reflecting back on our own world, returning us to it with fresh eyes. It is an approach to art which I find highly invigorating and inspiring.

Aimee showed me the libretto to an opera she had written for the composer John B Hedges and I was captivated as soon as I realized it was the Sea itself singing the opening lines - it was saying sorry to all the ships it had to let sink because its shoulders were too heavy and not meant for carrying boats. I loved the idea of an 'element' singing, and some time later the idea occurred to me that it could make for an interesting song-cycle to have a series of different elements, each singing in the first person. I approached Alasdair Middleton (the librettist for my opera A Bird in Your Ear) with this idea. Alasdair latched on to the concept immediately - the first poem he produced was Wind who, marvellously, was in unrequited love; followed by a rather melancholy and mysterious Night, anda crazed Moon who 'wants to kill'. I later added two of my own poems to the collection, a rather bleak Snow that sees itself as 'frozen tears', and a Mountain that contemplates its only friendship over the years - with the night sky.

It is my fantastic privilege to be writing this piece for Dawn Upshaw, whom I have got to know over the past couple of years and who has been tremendously supportive of my work as a composer. Dawn sang my Piosenki last year on a number of occasions, and in thosesame concerts I was particularly taken with her performances of some lyrical and melancholy songs by John Dowland.It was this side to her voice that I decided I wanted to bring out in these songs, which are also inspired to some extent by Medieval French song, and more distantly, by the Strauss's elegaic Four Last Songs. Aside from Dawn herself, inspiration also came from knowing the fantastic array of players who will be performing, several of whom I am lucky enough to count among my friends. These include harpist Bridget Kibbey, who premiered my solo harp piece Caja de Musica at Carnegie Hall in April; clarinetist Todd Palmer, who premiered my Clarinet Quintet, Gumboots (also at Carnegie) last autumn; leading Mandolinist Avi Avital with whom I have worked on a number of projects; and violinist Arnaud Sussman who premiered my piece Groanbox with Metropolis Ensemble earlier this year.

David Bruce

31 July 2009

The North Wind Was a Woman

1. The Snow is Completely Without Hope (text by David Bruce)

Frozen tears are all I weep
And where they fall nothing grows.
I close my eyes and think of sleep,
But tears of ice are all that flow.
Pain in crystal
Piercing bright
Pain in endless white
Just pain.

With frigid hands I reach in vain,
I cover you with my distress.
I paint you white
I paint you dead
A blizzard of anguish around your head;
I have no water with which to bless,
Just my frozen tears of pain,
Just pain.

2. The North Wind is a Woman (text by Alasdair Middleton)

I still love you,
Though you don't love me anymore.
You used to,
You once let me kiss you-
Remember that time on the sea-shore?
I still miss you.

Remember how we used to dance?
I still love to dance,
I still must,
Just, no-one will dance with me now;
Just newspapers now;
Just leaves,
Just dust.

I still love you.
I still want you to be mine,
That's why I ravish your clothes on the washing-line.
I still love you.
I rattle your windows.
I bang at your door.
I still love you.
Though you don't love me anymore.

3. The Night Wants You to Forget (text by Alasdair Middleton)

Past the sunset's flaming wreckage
Up to you I quietly creep;
Forget about the smoke and trouble,
Lean on me, my love, and sleep.

Now the starry Lion's stalking
To the Virgin's glittering breast
Mother murmurs 'Don't remember.'
Lean on me, my love, and rest.

Planets, shrieking, see the future.
Stars are grieving o'er the past.
Constellations mourn the present.
Lean on me and rest at last.

4. The Crescent Moon is a Dangerous Lunatic (text by Alasdair Middleton)

I am the moon.
I am steel.
I've forgotten how to feel.
I am the moon.
I want a knife.
I want a knife
To take a life.
I am the moon
I want blood
Blood is hot
I am not.
I am the moon.
I want to kill
And one night soon
I will.
I will

5. The Mountain Shares her Solitary Dreams (text by David Bruce)

My only friend through all the years
Looks down on me and holds my gaze,
Without purpose, without tears,
Without judgement or praise.

Her giant eye reflects a million tones
Of simple flutes and crystal tambourines.
She reminds me, though I am alone,
That countless others share my dreams.

And though her beauty makes me tremble and despair,
Her look contains the honesty of rain.
She answers every question with her infinite stare,
And In her darkness I feel small again.

Press / Latest Reviews

The Guardian / Aug 2011
George Hall

David Bruce's brilliantly scored, folk-inspired The North Wind Was a Woman [was] hugely impressive

San / May 2011
Kenneth Herman

This vividly scored, emotionally turbulent 25-minute work reminded me at once of Samuel Barber's 'Knoxville: Summer 1915,' not because Bruce imitated in any way Barber's harmonic vocabulary, but because this work exuded an equally passionate immediacy and rich instrumentation that dared you to remain outside of its vibrant command.

Unlike the Romantic poets of the 19th century, who saw nature as the flattering background of romance, Bruce's poems (two are actually his own) make nature the romantic protagonists. Bruce turned the fourth poem, 'The Crescent Moon is a Dangerous Lunatic' (by Alasdair Middleton), into a careening car chase, a pulsating Expressionist rant that proved as ravishingly beautiful as it was violent. And Narucki proved more than equal to its challenge.

I cannot begin to describe the extent of Bruce's inventive instrumentation throughout the work in a short review, but let me highlight his mesmerizing combination of harp and mandolin, contrasting plucked sounds that he wove into a sonorous magic carpet, notably in the opening poem 'The Snow Is Completely Without Hope.'"

New York Times / Sep 2009

The program's real center of gravity was "The North Wind Was a Woman," a song cycle by David Bruce... Mr. Bruce's vocal lines... are invitingly melodic and deceptively simple. Ms. Upshaw...sang four of the settings with the lustrous, melancholy timbre they demanded... Mr. Bruce's instrumental writing is just as striking.

Chamber Music Society Blog / Sep 2009
David Finckel

With highly-skilled instrumental writing to support Dawn [Upshaw]'s magical singing...the piece was one of the most smashing successes for a new work I have seen in a long time. A prolonged ovation brought musicians and composer to the stage time and again before the intermission.


for Soprano and Eleven Players

1 Flute (Doubling piccolo,alto+bass)
2 clarinets (doubling Bass clarinets)
1 Percussion
2 violins

Duration 23 mins
Composed Mar-Aug 2009
First performance Dawn Upshaw, Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, Sept 23rd, 2009
Commissioned by Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center

Past Performances


  • The North Wind was a Woman
    Chroma/Sadhbh Dennedy

Related Posts

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 • Centers of gravity (9/25/2009)
 • A warm welcome from Alice (9/22/2009)
 • Windy music (8/16/2009)


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