The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World

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The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World
for narrator, clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2007)

          Gabriel García Márquez’s eponymous short story originally appeared in Playboy magazine many decades ago, notwithstanding its subtitle as A Tale for Children. It has long been a favourite of mine, not least because it is a fine example of Márquez’s gift for making the macabre seem magical. When I was asked by the Music in Great Irish Houses Festival to write a piece for narrator and small ensemble, I knew I wanted to use a prose text rather than (for instance) a long poem, and so this sprang to mind.
          In essence, I tried to achieve a good balance between making the music interesting enough to influence how the text is received and responded to by the audience, but not so interesting that it detracts from listening to the story itself. I divided the text into approximately 30 sections, and since the music accompanying each one takes a given amount of time to play, that is also the amount of time the narrator has to ‘play with’ to deliver that part of the story: within each section, the narrator is free regarding timing, emphasis and speed of delivery, but the absolute parameters of where each part must begin and end are set. Nonetheless, the aim is to achieve a sense of flow between narration and music not unlike that which arises when a story is being told ‘naturally’.

          The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World was commissioned by the Music in Great Irish Houses Festival with funds from the Arts Council of Ireland, and I am particularly grateful to Ciara Higgins, the Festival’s director, for asking me to write it in the first place.


Ian Wilson, September 2007