once there was

A suite of eight pieces for piano, percussion and soundtrack (with optional video) [24′]

"On a wall, in a beck" (part 1 from "Once There Was") by Yannis Kyriakides from Yannis Kyriakides on Vimeo.

once there was is a suite of pieces for piano, percussion and audiovisual media, based on traditional nursery rhymes. Many of these rhymes have dark and historically significant themes, yet they are used to foster emotion and cultivate language in toddlers. In some cases, rhymes were censored or changed to mask the political messages that lie within. The relevance of these meanings have to a large extent now been lost, either because the significance of political events have faded, or that social conflicts have been reconciled.

In the collection once there was, the nursery rhymes are reflected either in text, which is projected or encoded in the music, or the tunes which are embedded within the fabric of the music.

The eight pieces in this collection can be played with or without video, though always with the given soundtrack. There are all based on nursery rhymes from various collections, predominantly from the most well known Mother Goose collection (18th century).

  1. On A Wall, In A Beck
  2. Here Comes A Candle
  3. A Garden Full Of Snow
  4. Until The Sun
  5. XYZ And Ampersand
  6. All The Birds In The Air
  7. Black Wool
  8. Leave Your Sleep

On A Wall, In A Beck, takes as its theme, the lyric of 'Humpty Dumpty', and its supposed depiction of a siege engine during the English Civil War in the mid-17th century.

Here Comes A Candle, samples the last lines of 'Oranges and Lemons', a seemingly innocent rhyme which follows a condemned man through London to his execution.

A Garden Full Of Snow references the lyric of 'A man of words and not of deeds', a burlesque song supposedly heard at the Battle of Culloden, 1746, the final confrontation of the Jacobite uprising and part of the religious civil was in Britain.

Until The Sun takes a line from the most famous nursery rhyme, 'Twinkle, twinkle little star', as a basis for a sonic exploration of the cymbal.

XYZ And Ampersand encodes into music one of the earliest ABC rhymes.

All The Birds In The Air references a rhyme which has been used as a murder archetype in many folk cultures round the world, 'Who Killed Cock Robin?'. There are both mythologicial and possible political connotations to this medieval rhyme, and in Germany, several similar rhymes depict birds as mourners.

Black Wool references 'Baa baa black sheep', a controversial rhyme, which in the late 20th century saw it banned by various school councils for possible racist overtones, has now been proved to refer to medieval export taxes on wool, rather than what was thought to be the slave trade.

Finally, Leave Your Sleep, based on 'Girls and boys come out to play', is a call to children to gather together and have fun, the uplifting message hides the brutal reality that in the 19th century many children worked over 16 hours a day under terrible conditions in factories, mills, and mines, and 'playtime', if there ever was any, would be in the evening, after the the day's hard labour.

Commissioned by Duo Simons|Napolov with funding from the Netherlands Fonds Podiumkunsten.

The music can be ordered from Donemus Publishing House, Amsterdam.