"Twilight Butterfly" by Thomas

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Monday, August 12, 2019

Each summer, music lovers congregate about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago for the annual Ravinia Festival, the oldest outdoor music festival in America, and since 1936 the summer home of the Chicago Symphony.

But on today’s date in 2013, Ravinia was the venue for world-premiere performances of several new art songs, including “Twilight Butterfly,” by the American composer Augusta Read Thomas, a setting of a poetic text written by the composer herself.

“The poetic is always in my music”, explained Thomas. “In writing ‘Twilight Butterfly’ … I began with a mental picture … [of] someone, viewing a butterfly fluttering on a deep summer evening beneath the twilight moon. This imagery became so specific that writing my own lyrics was almost inescapable.”

Now even at their most poetic, composers must keep practical considerations in mind, as Thomas explained:

"Beyond the evocative, impressionist nature of the piece … I sought to provide a comfortable performance environment for the singer. My lyrics integrate words whose open vowel sounds suit the voice ... The piano gives the singer pitches at every entrance … [and] rubato indications allow the singer delicate rhythmic and interpretive flexibility.”