"Maenad: Instructions for an improvisation after Sylvia Plath’s 'Poem for a Birthday'" For female speaker and very small ensemble of unspecified instrumentalists

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Danae Killian


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)


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Danae Killian, University of Melbourne

Danaë Killian is a Melbourne-based pianist whose poetry-infused performances are known for their intense originality and rare expressive power. Her repertoire ranges across the complete solo piano music of the Second Viennese School, major polyphonic works by JS Bach, and a wealth of Australian compositions. A passionate champion of modern art music, Danaë Killian has delivered over a hundred premieres, performing throughout Europe, China and the USA, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. She has been the recipient of prestigious awards, including the Australian Alumni (W G Walker) Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship, the Helen Macpherson Smith Scholarship, an Australian Postgraduate Award, and an Australia Award Endeavour Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Killian is an Honorary Fellow in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne, where she earned her PhD in 2010 with a dissertation on Virginia Woolf’s The Waves as a modernist imagining of the harmony of the spheres. Among her many recordings are Arnold Schoenberg: Complete Works for Piano Solo (2015) and Ernest Bloch: Viola and Piano (2018, with Barbara Hornung), both for the Move label. Danaë Killian is a Forest Collective core artist.