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Maenad is an aleatoric musical composition, written in the form of instructions for an improvisation. It imaginatively follows the trajectory of Sylvia Plath’s seven-part “Poem for a Birthday” (1959), which, in its mystical density and complexity, prefigures the narrative of alchemical self-transformation that propels the later Ariel. Maenad is composed in seven episodes, each of which is named, in sequence, after one of the parts of Plath’s “Poem for a Birthday,” and each of which seeks freely to unknot and unravel one or more element in Plath’s extraordinarily rich weave of imagery and associative meaning. The title of the improvisation as a whole—Maenad—takes its name from the third poem in Plath’s sequence, which the female speaker is instructed to declaim in its entirety. Maenad is conceived with the members of Melbourne-based new music ensemble Forest Collective in mind.
A performance carrying out these instructions should be titled and credited as follows:
Maenad: Structured Musical Improvisation after Sylvia Plath’s “Poem for a Birthday”—for female speaker and very small ensemble of unspecified instrumentalists (2020)
By Danaë Killian (*1972)