words and song without words

Cello solo, sound and video.

Words and Song Without Words from Yannis Kyriakides on Vimeo.

This work is a response to a quote from Felix Mendelssohn from a letter to to Marc-André Souchay dated 15th of October 1842. In it he explained his position regarding his Songs Without Words cycle, highlighting the opposite view he takes from the norm, regarding the relative meaningfulness of words in relation to music. He says:

People often complain that music is too ambiguous; that what they should think when they hear is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me it is exactly the opposite, and not only with regard to an entire speech, but also with individual words. These, too seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music. The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite. The same words never mean the same things to different people. Only the song can say the same thing, can arouse the same feelings in one person as in another, a feeling which is not expressed however by the same words. Words have many meanings, but music we could both understand correctly.

This text is encoded into music and set against the words themselves which are projected one by one on screen. The effect being that the semantic meaning of the text would come under strain when forced into a direct relationship with music.

This piece explores not only the individual semantic problems of words and music individually but what happens in their combination when the music is forced into a linguistic function.

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

performance history

  • 29 October 2012 - Larissa Groeneveld, Amsterdam Cello Biennale, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam.
  • The Work was subsequently awarded the International Rostrum of Composers Prize from the IRC in 2014.
  • Recorded by Francesco Dillon for the Unsounds release: Subvoice