Extensive word painting, freely flowing meter, and a unique harmonic language reinforce the imagery from Adela Florence Nicolson’s poem.
Adela Florence Nicolson’s imagery and sense of longing attracted me to this poem, and the music is built around this imagery. Word painting is a common compositional technique—making the music directly illustrate a word’s meaning, such as a rising pitch for the word “up,” or an unexpected chord for the word “mistake.” One could even say that word painting is the composer’s version of poetic imagery, and as such, I felt this poem lent itself to extensive word painting.
This word painting starts with the very first notes—the opening line is built from a single pitch, reflecting the flat contour of the land; even the word “wide” is substantially longer than other notes. Later, the melody for “sea line joined to the sky-line clear” is an upward gesture, and the harmony resolves to a simple major triad on the word “clear.” Not including repetitions, I count 25 distinct “word paintings” throughout The Plains—I encourage you to listen for them!
The Plains is a continuation of a cycle of choral pieces, India's Love Lyrics, based on Adela Florence Nicolson’s poetry that includes Golden Stars (F. 150), Wistful Wind (F. 152), The Plains (F. 154), Lost Delight (F. 157), Famine Song (F. 164), and Reminiscence (F. 166).