for baritone and piano

James Rolfe
James Rolfe
Composition Date: 2013
Duration: 00:12:30
Genre: Solo Voice, With Solo Instrument, , Keyboards


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 1 x Piano
  • 1 x Baritone
Click here to download full work (7.19 Mb - Not printable)

Programme Note:
Moths: A Song Cycle. 2013. Words by André Alexis, music by James Rolfe.

Program Note

The song cycle has a vital place in Western music, but there are surprisingly few contemporary Canadian examples of the form. Moths (2013) continues my collaboration with author André Alexis, with whom I have talked of writing song cycles since we began to work together. He conjured up a cycle of six songs tracing the journey of a sleeper through night and dreams, from darkness to light, from the visceral to the ethereal.

Moths was commissioned by Canadian Art Song Project (Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox, co-artistic directors) with the assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.


1. Night is a river

Night washes the room in darknessrising, as my bed fords the riverand cries out.
The flood leaves a ruined canvas.
Your face has faded and my hand is lost.
But what makes you so restless, River?
Why restless, now that my bed is goneand light is useless to me?

2. The river of dreams

Every atom of nightleaves a world in its wake.
The man I bumped,falling in Lyon.
A woman in Pamplona, red scarves flooding the Plaza de Toros.
Nothing is anything.
Nothing is nothing.
The mirror sings while the city burns in its sleep.

3. Dreams are a cloth

Stitch up this feeling, embroidered with cities and roomstrees and oceanstalking heads on countertops,
horses falling from the sky,and minarets on tundra,
whose lining moves through years of blue,
from glacial lakes
up through Sunday sweaters,
from iodine bottles
and airless rooms
to long gone shadow
and woollen nights spooled on wooden looms.
Up through all the blues of blue
singed by lost constellations: the flipper,
the tree, and the muddy boot.

4. The cloth is eaten by moths

On they come, a plague of them,
settling on sleep like ticks on cattleburrowing into familiar faces,
eating old memories and well-known places.
Soon there will be nothing left but light.
And on,quietly festive, dainty in power,
they make off with black days,
with flickering sands and red towels,
with mothers turned to unfasten their tops
with gorgon winters and summers stags.
Any moment, now, morning will break
and all moths be taken by restless birds.

5. Moths give off light

Electromagnetic radiation,
moth light, visible to sleepers only,
the light moths themselves give off as they kiss
the aching acres of fabric knitted somewhere ‘twixt wide awake and fast asleep.
Joy beamed at the limits of a spectrum
whose farthest reaches are known to dreamers
poised at the farthest reaches of sleep itself.
Do not ask what it is like. It is like
nothing on earth, though it is to the eye
what long gone trains are to the dreamer’s ear.

6. Light is a river

First it is a wave on a spectrum, moving at speed: one hundred and eighty six thousand, two hundred and eighty two miles per second.
A river too fast to be troubled by much, bending its endless shores to its will, its self-regard laying waste to ships caught in burning mirrors.
Then, it is clever, hiding its trillion tributaries in subtle places.
Opening certain fruit – grapes, watermelon, Spanish limes - one sees light curled within, in embryo.
But then, it is itself a tributary: sun, star, quasar, combustion, ionization, lightning, bio-luminescence, glow worms, fireflies, Aequorea victoria, the Antarctic krill, the parchment worm, foxfire, and the common piddock.
Strange, then, that the creatures who seek it out most ardently, like this black moth entreating at the window screen, are so wary of its bright, blessed name.


  • Call Number:
  • MV 1101 R746mo
  • Genre:
  • Solo Voice, With Solo Instrument, , Keyboards
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • September 12, 2014
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score (22 p.) ;
    22 Pages
    Height: 30 cm
    Width: 23 cm
  • Language Information
  • Language of libretto: English
  • Additional Information:

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