Composition, Research

My Love Has Many Apples

Michael Thibodeau performing My Love Has Many Apples in the Norwegian Church, Lachine


I’ll give my love an apple without e’er a core
I’ll give my love a dwelling without e’er a door,
I’ll give my love a palace wherein she may be,
But she may unlock it without any key.

Nova Scotia Folk Song
Michael Thibodeau, Toronto-based pianist

When Toronto pianist Michael Thibodeau spoke to me about writing a solo work for piano over a year ago, he specifically requested that it contain a maritime element, ideally from his native Nova Scotia. The piece I chose, which originally came to Nova Scotia by way of Great Britain, was called “I Will Give My Love an Apple”. (see The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The resulting piece, part neo-Romantic, part computer assisted composition, is a 10-minute work virtuosic work incorporating elements of the original melody into different textures, and then using algorithms to develop these textures further. At times gentle and tender, and at others aggressive and lively, the piece tries to capture the emotions brought on by the nature of the Eastern seaboard.

A screenshot from OpenMusic, a software used to design much of the C sections of the piece using intricate combinations of algorithms.

This piece was to be performed at a concert in June 2019, which was unfortunately cancelled due to an injury. Instead, we made a recording of the work using the Yamaha grand at the Norwegian Church of Montreal.

A brief analysis

For those who are interested, the piece divides roughly into 7 sections, symmetrically structured as follows:

  • A: Dramatic chords, representing the start of the melody, interspersed with nuanced roamings in the upper register. (0’0″)
    • B: A neo-Romantic accompaniment to the original melody, slowly proceeding over a wash of harmonies. (1’0″)
      • C: A slow, seemingly random progression downwards with rhythms drifting in and out of phase. (2’48”)
        • D: A scherzo-gig section, inspired by the fiddle music and oceans of Nova Scotia. (4’05”)
      • C: A slow, seemingly random progression upwards. (5’53”)
    • B: The melody, again accompanied by a neo-Romantic wash of harmonies. (7’08”)
  • A: Dramatic chords, interspersed with roamings in the upper register. (9’07”)
  • Coda (9’50”)


Première of “At Home”

As their first ever composer-in-residence, the Ottawa women’s choir Aella asked me to compose a new work for them this year. The poem chosen was “At Home” by Christina Rossetti, which they performed for the first time on June 16. Take a listen for yourself, from their concert Light Persists:

Aella, led by Jennifer Berntson in Ottawa

When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house:
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange boughs; 
From hand to hand they pushed the wine, 
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach; 
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
For each was loved of each.

I listened to thier honest chat:
Said one: “To-morrow we shall be
Plod plod along the featureless sands, 
And coasting miles and miles of sea.” 
Said one: “Before the turn of tide
We will achieve the eyrie-seat.” 
Said one: “To-morrow shall be like
To-day, but much more sweet.”

“To-morrow,” said they, strong with hope, 
And dwelt upon the pleasant way: 
“To-morrow,” cried they, one and all, 
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon; 
I, only I, had passed away: 
“To-morrow and to-day,” they cried;
I was of yesterday.

I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the table-cloth; 
I, all-forgotten, shivered, sad
To stay, and yet to part how loth: 
I passed from the familiar room, 
I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day.