Anthony Cheung (1982)

Pantoumime (2004)

for orchestra

  • General information
    • Composition date: 2004
    • Duration: 8 mn
    • Commission: Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra
Detailed formation
  • 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists, harp, piano (also celesta), strings

Premiere information

  • Date: 29 October 2004

    États-Unis, Cambridge, MA, Sanders Theatre


    le Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, direction : James Yannatos.

Program note

As a composer, I am naturally drawn not only to the connections between symbolism and imagery in music and poetry, but also form. For this piece, I drew inspiration from the pantoum (pantum), originally a 15th century Malayan improvised poem, later popular with 19th century French poets like Hugo and Baudelaire. Several composers have used it to great effect, most famously Ravel in the second movement of his Trio. The poems can be of indefinite length and are composed in quatrain stanzas whose second and fourth lines reappear as the first and third lines of the following stanza. Often, lines two and four of the final stanza repeat the third and first lines of the opening. In this way, each line of the entire poem is used exactly twice, becoming recontextualized when it reappears next to new material.

In this short work, the music presents a four-stanza, sixteen-line pantoum in which verse has been replaced with musical fragments and phrases of varying lengths. Greater liberties have been taken to allow for more variation when the ideas return. There is a persistent lyricism that pervades much of the work, despite numerous changes of temperament. I have also tried to retain an improvisational feel, in keeping with the form’s origins. The overall effect is of disparate elements conspiring and colliding in a rhapsodic, sometimes episodic way. Orchestral colors constantly shift as timbres emerge in unexpected ways, often with extended instrumental techniques. Look for a nod to Debussy’s “Syrinx” in the celli near the end. The title also refers to traditional balletic pantomime: whereas dancers mime to music, here the music mimes a hidden, unwritten text, left to the imagination of the listener.

Anthony Cheung, septembre 2004.