Composing Snow: Lewis Murphy

Interestingly, this is the second Snow White-inspired piece I’ve written in as many years, the first being a collaboration with Laura Attridge (London-based writer/director) that resulted in the song cycle ‘Damsel/Wife/Witch’ for mezzo-soprano and piano. This cycle dramatised the emotional journey of a young female character via the stories of various fairytale heroines. The first song – ‘Stepmother’ – deals exclusively with a young Snow White’s infatuation with her new stepmother, who is both beautiful and dangerous.

Jennifer’s libretto for ‘The Three Ravens’ (Act 1 of ‘Snow’), on the other hand, encompasses Snow White’s relationships with the other adults in her life (i.e. her father and mother, the King and Queen), or at least her relationship with the constructed memory of her mother.

I enjoyed having the chance to explore this lesser-known aspect of Snow White’s upbringing. The relationship between the King and the Queen is also given considerable attention, so much so that I feel it becomes one of the most prominent ingredients in this Act – although the Queen dies at the end of Scene One, giving birth to Snow White, she remains in the King’s thoughts throughout the piece. In terms of the musical composition of the opera, this proved very useful.

The music is constructed using a rather traditional method, with melodic ideas associated with key characters or moods – there is, for example, a ‘Snow Theme’, the ‘King and Queen’s Duet’ etc. – therefore, the music that I wrote for the first scene could be re-used throughout the piece wherever there was reference to the Queen or her relationship with the King. In this way, a small collection of  ideas were used to generate most of the musical material. Sometimes the themes of two characters are juxtaposed for dramatic effect – e.g. the end of Scene Three, in which the New Queen battles against the memory of Snow White’s mother for full control over the will of the King.

It was a delight to be able to compose for a medium-sized cast of singers and a large ensemble, which offers an inexhaustible variety of tonal colours and shades. The orchestration of the first Act is generally quite full-bodied, though I have made an effort at certain points, such as the very opening and the very end, to capture the frosty atmosphere of the wintry scene in which the whole drama takes place. Ultimately, the purpose of the music in this context is to amplify and serve the drama, and so I hope that the audience feels transported by my music for ‘The Three Ravens’ into the world of ‘Snow’.



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