About this text


The roses
1. Gros Choux d'Hollande
2. Milkmaid
3. Jeanne D'Arc
4. Rubens
5. Slater's Crimson China
6. D'Aguesseau
7. Niphetos
8. Desprez à Fleur Jaune
9. Mme Alfred Carrière
10. Noëlla Nabonnand
11. Parkzierde
12. Bullata
13. Reine des Violettes
14. Solfaterre
15. Meg Merrilies
16. Reine des Iles Bourbon
17. Fortuniana
18. Sombreuil
19. Molly Sharman-Crawford
20. Gruss an Teplitz
21. Maman Cochet
22. Souvenir de la Malmaison
23. Fantin-Latour
24. Waldfee
25. Harison's Yellow

About The old rose reader

The old rose reader started as a gift for my wife, composer Frances White. She is a fanatical gardener and rose-fancier. She spends hours poring over various gardening magazines, catalogs, and reference books reviewing different varieties and deciding what to add to the garden this year.

One day, she said how much she loved the poetic names of the old roses (generally, ones grown prior to hybrid teas) and would love to write a piece that used these names as the text. Since I occasionally write poetic texts, and she occasionally uses them in her music, she asked me if I would put something together for the "rose name piece". I said that I would, but didn't really know what to do with the names other than arrange them in semi-random lists. I started jotting down rose-related ideas and images that came to me, but didn't see how they fit in; the piece had no momentum and just sort of stalled there.

It took off when the framing story -- the current Introduction -- came to me all at once. The piece would be the story of a man reading to his insomniac wife from rose books. It would include the lists of roses (now just in alphabetical order, right out of the books), interspersed with botanical prose describing some varieties, and then more fanciful stories about the roses or inspired by their names.

I wrote the text quickly after that, using some of her reference books as a source of both names and descriptions. It is in twenty-five sections, each featuring a specific rose. In some sections the name is just stated plainly, in others it has horticultural notes, in still others there is a story about the featured rose. In all cases, the litany of other rose names forms a backdrop for the featured rose.

The horticultural information is all more-or-less accurate and is adapted from a variety of reference works. The stories are my own fanciful creations, although some are told in that old-fashioned naturalist tone of voice for which I have a great fondness. And to set the record straight, this includes the information about Desprez à Fleur Jaune, the "firefly rose". Many people have asked if this rose truly attracts fireflies; sadly, this is pure fiction.

Frances had the happy idea of using this text in a piece for violin and electronic sound for her friend and remarkable violinist/composer Mari Kimura. Mari's husband, Hervé Brönnimann, is from Switzerland and was a natural to read the text, since so many of the names are in French. So the piece became a dual husband-and-wife collaboration! I made a video to go with the piece which is just animated text -- the lists of roses floating up, the featured roses flashing on and off, and the texts of the stories appearing as they are read. In concert, Mari plays the piece with the video projected behind her. The old rose reader will be included (minus the video) on Mari's upcoming CD from Bridge Records. An excerpt of the piece is available for download at Frances' page on NewMusicJukebox here.

The piece has been played all over the world and has been very well received. Like the roses, it's romantic and lush. There's a sadness about it, too; after I finished the text, I realized that death was behind many of the stories, and that the woman of the Introduction may be dying. This was not a preconceived idea that I had, but one that developed of its own accord. Frances' music captures this perfectly, and the piece has left many an audience member in tears by the end.

Because of time limitations, Frances only used some of the stories and names in her violin piece. She is planning a sequel, however, this time for viola, electronic sound, and live narrator. This piece will include some of the stories that didn't make it into the first piece (probably including Bullata, which is one of my favorites). Stay tuned for that.

James Pritchett, Griggstown, 8 May 2007