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Although 'revolutionary' is a convenient way of expressing how this work might have appeared in the 1920s, one does not feel that Bliss regarded himself as such, but, rather, as an 'experimenter' in making use of small groups of instruments, especially when using a voice as an instrument. Through his early enthusiasm for the music of Debussy and Ravel - he always considered himself more Latin inclined than Teutonic - it is possible that he had heard some of the similarly experimental music of Albéric Magnard and of André Caplet, particularly the latter's Septet of 1909, probably the first modern instance of the introduction of voices into Chamber Music.
Madam Noy was written in 1918 and is often referred to as a 'witchery' song in which the soprano voice 'floats' a weird story in a web of humorous and apposite sounds drawn from the flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, viola and double bass.
© George Dannatt
To words by E H W M
Old Madam Noy hath stolen forth
To the Church on the sands nigh Perranporth
The winds are sleep on the ocean's back,
The moon's ring faint and the skyline black;
And when she is sure that she's quite alone
She grubs in the sand till she finds a bone,
And her old face wrinkles with joy at the sight
As she buckles her cloak and is lost in the night.
She has gotten her bone, but she will not sup,
For safe in the cupboard she locks it up
With an albatross' skull and three slips of yew
For a deed of magic she means to do
When a black-sailed brig shall appear at sea
And the moon is as large as large can be;
For the skipper shall never his lady wed.
But 'tis not yet time and she goes to bed.
She has gone to bed and 'tis twelve o'clock
When she hears from the cupboard a muffled knock,
Once, twice, again, and then a moan
And a voice that whispers 'Give back my bone'.
Old Madam Noy hath jump'd from her bed
To the cupboard door she hath press'd her head,
And clear as a bell there comes that moan
And the whisper 'Give back, give back my bone'.
She's open'd the cupboard and window wide
And hurl'd the talkative bone outside
She watches it sink to the dewy ground
And hears it fall with a whistling sound.
When all of a sudden the moon grows big
And over the sea glides a black-sailed brig,
And she curses her luck and the bone in despair
But beneath comes a low mocking laugh on the air.