Martin Smolka


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Sicut Nix (2019-20)

three chants for choir


I. Murmuring morning

Murmuring morning

Snow lies, all snow

The roofs stand under their snow burden

The trees rear white arms

And where were walls and fences we see fantastic forms

Windy winter morning

A lurid brazen light in the east proclaims the approach of day.

(Thoreau – Winter Walk)

II. Feathery Flakes

While the earth has slumbered

All the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending

As if some northern Ceres reigned

Showering her silvery grain over all the fields

The livelong night

(Thoreau – Winter Walk)

III. Wings of Wind

Bless the Lord, O my soul

O Lord, my God, Thou art very great

Thou art clothed with honor and majesty

Who covers Thyself with light as with a garment

Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain

Who makes the clouds His chariot

Who walks upon the wings of the wind

(Psalm 104)

IIIA. He Gives Snow

He gives snow like wool

He scatters the hoarfrost like ashes

He casts forth His ice like morsels

Who can stand before His cold

He sends out His word, and melts them

He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow


(Psalm 147)

Program Note:


In Winter Walk, Thoreau describes plenty of snow like I remember from my childhood. I have chosen carefully those words which not only name his observations but evoke them with their sound. I found there groupings of words where “r” is dominating as well as “m” and “n” sounds often. I separated them and repeated, evoking an image of winter morning: “murmuring morning”, “the roofs under their snow burden”, “the trees rear white arms”. Words made of “l”, “w” and “s” were grouped for an image of silent motionless piece of nature covered with snow: “snow lies, all snow”, “a lurid light in the east” etc. These words were multiplied, moving from voice to voice, rather humming than speaking, communicating more through their timbre than through their sense.

In the 2nd movement the words, half sung, half whispered, are showered still faster while creating clouds of phonemes, mainly the hissing sounds – to evoke whirling of snowflakes in wind: “All the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending, as if some northern Ceres reigned showering her silvery grain over all the fields”. Words are handled like the snowflakes, there are plenty of them whirling and spurting – to paint an image of snow in wind. My beloved snow.

The 3rd (last) movement brings the deeper context. It may be surprising how many times the Bible, among numerous descriptions of the beauties of Creation, has mentioned snow. The Book which seemed to had been written in hot weather somewhere close to deserts, describes it, inter alia, in the Psalm 147: “He gives snow like wool, He scatters the hoarfrost like ashes, He casts forth His ice like morsels, Who can stand before His cold...” The 3rd movement has two versions. The easier just prolongs the snow falling (the just quoted text). The other one, the thanksgiving, is truly difficult for singers. It´s text is about huge spaces: “Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain”, “who covers Thyself with light”, “who makes the clouds His chariot”. Female voices throw their cantilena so high, again and again, as if they attempted to touch the Heaven.

Martin Smolka       Copyright (C) 2022