John Cage's "Nowth Upon Nacht"
This short song is directly taken from Finnegans Wake, Page 556, lines 23-30. It is written for voice and closed piano. The song opens with a startlingly loud thump on the piano key-cover (perhaps created by slamming it shut?) The lyrics are then rapidly declaimed in a high-pitched voice, delivered with some amount of urgency and punctuated by occasional loud and sudden thumps. The song was written in memoriam for Cathy Berberian, the late wife of Luciano Berio, to whom Berio's "Chamber Music" was dedicated.
"Nowth Upon Nacht"
nowth upon nacht, while in his tumbril Wachtman Havelook
seequeerscenes, from yonsides of the choppy, punkt by his
curserbog, went long the grassgross bumpinstrass that henders
the pubbel to pass, stowing his bottle in a hole for at whet his
whuskle to stench ecrooksman, sequestering for lover's lost pro-
pertied offices the leavethings from allpurgers' night, og gneiss
ogas gnasty, kikkers, brillers, knappers and bands, handsboon
and strumpers, sminkysticks and eddiketsflaskers;
The most accessible recording of "Nowth Upon Nacht" is the Joan La Barbara version on New Albion's Singing Through John Cage. (The photo at the head of this page is of La Barbara and Cage.) It is coupled with a lovely rendition of Cage's other Joyce song, "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs," which has lyrics adapted from the passage immediately preceding "Nowth Upon Nacht." Recently, an Anna Clementi version has been made available through MD&G's Steffen Schleiermacher Cage series.
You may listen to sound samples and/or purchase John Cage CDs online from Amazon.com below:
Singing Through- Vocal Compositions by John Cage (Has "Widow" and "Nowth")
Joan La Barbara (Singer) / New Albion / Released 1990
John Cage: Voice & Piano (Has "Widow" and "Nowth")
Anna Clementi (Singer), Steffen Schleiermacher (Piano) / MD&G / Released 2001
There is another recording, now deleted, featuring Anthony de Mare, that was put out by Koch International. A mixture of works by John Cage and Meredith Monk, this disc also contains "Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs."
"The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs" -- (1942) A song adapted from the "Isobel" passage from Finnegans Wake.
Roaratorio -- (1979) This large and chaotic work incorporates phrases from Finnegans Wake into a tapestry of noise, voice, song, and Irish traditional music.
Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Eric Satie: An Alphabet -- (1982) A radio play featuring James Joyce as a character.