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The Musical Zodiac by Debbie Wiseman
Classic FM’s composer-in-residence reveals the short stories she used to inspire the 12 pieces that make up her new work, The Musical Zodiac.
A note from Debbie Wiseman
These are condensed versions of stories I made up (in most cases) to give me a starting point to write the 12 pieces that make up The Musical Zodiac . In each story I’ve tried to reflect the broad characteristics of the star signs and applied them to a little voyage of fantasy. They were never originally intended for any sort of publication, but they act as my short films for my mind, the dramas to enhance with the score; and I hope they give you some small insight into how I composed the album.
A herd of sheep is being shepherded out of their field as a huge storm approaches. Everyone goes quite happily except one ram who refuses to budge. The storm comes and soaks him through. Realising he’s made the wrong decision, the ram tries to run out of the field but slips on the wet ground and hurts his leg. He manages to take cover among some trees and gratefully shakes the water from his coat. He hears faint crying and spots two small children who are also hiding from the storm. They’re afraid of him but the ram sidles gently up to them and cuddles up to them to keep them warm and safe until the storm lifts and help arrives.
In a field outside a village lives a very angry bull, who periodically breaks out of his field, runs down the hill into the village and smashes everything up. The villagers don’t understand why the bull’s so enraged. Then one day a young girl goes out into the field to see the bull. The villagers warn her against it – they fear she will be gored or stamped to death – but she insists, and to the astonishment of the villagers manages to soothe the bull by whispering into its ear. She then brings the bull back down the hill into the village, explaining to the people that the bull felt excluded, lonely and sad in his field up the hill. Under the girl’s tender care, the bull helps to repair the many years of destruction he caused by carrying heavy loads of water, wood and bricks to rebuild houses and walls. The villagers reward him by giving him his own enclosure with a warm stable, in the heart of the village, among his new friends, where he lives happily ever after.
This is about a pair of identical twin boys, given up for adoption by their penniless mother and separated at birth, but growing up in the same city, unaware of each other’s existence. Twin 1 becomes a successful salesman; twin 2 grows up to be a street thief. By a staggering coincidence of the sort that only happens in stories like these, Twin 2 mugs a man for his pocket watch; that man is Twin 1. They’re shocked to discover each other – it’s like looking in a mirror – and they talk, and find out about each other’s histories. They team up and join a ship bound for the high seas in search of new worlds. They find an idyllic tropical island. Twin 2 wants to stay, Twin 1 wants to continue the voyage with the ship. As they part, Twin 1 gives Twin 2 the pocket watch that Twin 2 had tried to steal from him all those years ago, as a keepsake, so that the invisible bond between them may never be broken.
This is a story of a crab who loves the Moon. He waits for it to come up at the end of the day, sings to it all night and then watches it disappear at dawn. He wants to live there more than anything else in the world. He tries to reach it by a number of methods; he climbs to the highest place that he can and tries to jump to the moon, but falls into the sea; he calls to it to come down and collect him but he believes that the moon can’t hear him because of the distance between them; and he tries to swim to it when it dips onto the horizon at the end of the night, but it always disappears before he can get to it. Then one night there is a mighty storm at sea. The crab tries to escape but is engulfed by one of the huge waves that crash down onto the shore. The force of the wave knocks him out; and when he wakes up he is looking down at Earth from his new home on the Moon... or is he...?
This is about a lion who stands at the head of a great river, watching over all the animals who live there and protecting them from hunters who from time to time come along and try and kill them for sport. There is a moment when hunters come to the river and the lion chases them away. Later, the hunters return with more weapons and try and kill the lion, but their arrows bounce off him – the lion is indestructible. During the night following the battle, the lion goes to drink at the river and he sees his reflection in the water – and it looks like a man wearing a lion skin. There’s a flash of light in the sky, the reflection reverts to that of the lion, and the lion looks up to see a bright new star in the sky, which is now watching over him and protecting him.
It is winter. It’s incessantly snowing, and there is a war in the country where this story is based. Inside a small cottage, a woman is making a dress, a colourful Spring dress, and she is oblivious to the world outside; she is determined to finish her task before the Spring comes and, above all, to make the dress perfect – so much so that every time she makes a mistake, drops a stitch or slightly tears the material, she throws the whole thing in the fire and starts again. Time passes; the war ends, the Spring comes, and a young girl enters the house to tell the woman that the war is over – just as the dress is finished. The older woman presents the dress to the young girl, and it fits perfectly.
This is the story of two rich landowners; Landowner East and Landowner West, who are the two richest men in the county, but each wants to be THE richest, and to achieve this, they have both been trying for years to buy some extra land from the council, but the Mayor won’t allow it because it’s the only place left in the town where the village children can play. However, the landowners won’t take no for an answer and each – unbeknown to the other - tries to bribe the Mayor to sell them the land. The Mayor thinks he should go to the police, but then comes up with an alternative plan. He persuades each landowner to massively increase their bribes, and then uses the money to buy the land himself and build extra facilities on it for the villagers and their children, while keeping it for the enjoyment of everybody. The landowners can’t do anything about it because the Mayor has a witness to the bribery – the Chief Constable of the county, in disguise at the meetings as the Mayor’s chief clerk – and the landowners are sent to prison.
This is a story about a giant scorpion who by a quirk of nature only has the ability to sting once, and then he dies. Nobody else knows this apart from the scorpion himself, and so he gets by on sheer threat power, as everyone’s scared of him because he’s so massive, and he is respected and feared by all the other creatures, some of whom ask him to act as their minder from time to time. This makes him arrogant, and so he makes loads of enemies and no real friends.
The scorpion does however watch over an orphaned boy who spends a lot of time by the sea, and protects him from predators when he occasionally falls asleep on the beach. The boy has never met the scorpion and doesn’t know that he is guarding him. One evening the boy wakes up from his nap on the beach and sees the scorpion. He thinks he’s hostile so he attacks him, and the scorpion, not wishing to harm the boy, runs away. Some of the other creatures see this and tell everyone else that the scorpion must have no sting, and he’s been fooling them all this time; so they confront him and move to attack him. Outnumbered, the scorpion turns his sting on himself...
This is the story of a famous hunter whose aim with bow and arrow was legendary. One day, however, his aim momentarily deserts him, and he accidentally shoots and wounds a wild horse. He looks after the horse and nurses it back to health, and the two go to war together, winning many battles and leading many armies; until one day the horse is shot by an enemy arrow and killed. The hunter goes mad with rage and, on foot, lays into the enemy, cutting down dozens of them, until he is finally overwhelmed. Mortally wounded, he crawls back to where his horse fell and dies next to him. As night falls, their spirits are raised up together to the stars, creating a new constellation.
This is an actual myth I’ve used as my inspiration here, rather than a tale I made up, because I liked this story.
This story is about the father of the race of sea-goats, Pricus, who watches his children make their way onto the shore and become normal goats, losing their unique ability to think and speak. He is upset by this mass defection of his children. Luckily he has an ability to turn back time – while being unaffected himself by the time-shift - and uses this ability to make his children return to the sea. Unfortunately, all that happens is that the children walk out of the sea again, and become normal goats once more, and Pricus has to keep repeating his time trick. Eventually he realises that he can’t prevent his children going ashore, and with a heavy heart decides to stop reversing time. All his children desert him, and he asks Chronos, the God of Time, to let him die as he can’t bear to be the only sea-goat left in the world. Instead Chronos gives him immortality by turning him into the constellation Capricorn.
This is another one where I’ve taken my inspiration from an original myth; this one is the Greek mythology version of the Noah’s Ark story!
During the Iron Age, humanity had become more savage than the wildest animals. Brother fought against brother, sons killed fathers, and no one was safe on the roads or in their own home. Both men and women were violent, bloodthirsty and utterly without morals. The words of the gods meant little or nothing to them, and no one would repent for their sins. Zeus, despairing for humankind, sent a great flood upon the earth. The flood destroyed all the people in the world - with the exception of Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha.
Zeus had noticed this couple during his last visit to Earth. They lived alone in a simple hut. They had almost no food, and no material goods. Despite this, they fed Zeus, gave him shelter for the night and spoke kindly to him, even though they had no idea that he was a god. They were the last godly people on Earth, so Zeus allowed them to survive the flood. After it ended, he helped them to create a new race of men, which was supposed to be stronger and better. Deucalion is known as the 'Water Bearer' because he not only lived through the flood, but he helped to bring life to a new generation.
This is the journey of a fish that is born the sole survivor of a batch of eggs at the bottom of a river. He starts to swim in search of a new family, and encounters several obstacles and trials on his journey. First he sees the river split into several tributaries and has to decide which one to take. Then he finds a baby eel tangled in rushes, and goes to help him get free. He daydreams as he swims along and nearly gets eaten by a bigger fish; and finally he finds two fish that look just like him, a mother and son, who invite him to join them, and they swim off happily together.