Jabberwocky (Philip Legge)

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  • CPDL #22479:        (Sibelius 5)
Editor: Philip Legge (submitted 2010-10-21).   Score information: A4, 6 pages, 220 kB   Copyright: CC BY NC ND 2.5 Australia
Edition notes: optional Bass solo in verse 2 (may be sung by all of the men). MusicXML source file is in compressed .mxl format.

General Information

Title: Jabberwocky
Composer: Philip Legge
Lyricist: Lewis Carroll

Number of voices: 4vv   Voicing: SATB
Genre: SecularPartsong

Language: English
Instruments: A cappella

First published: 2010
(Joint Issue: Choral Public Domain Library, Petrucci Music Library)

Description: Jabberwocky, written in the space of a few days in May 2010, is something of a mini-cantata version of Lewis Carroll’s famous poem from Through the Looking-Glass, in which the eponymous beast is hunted and slain by a young hero. The hero’s father has a singing rôle in verses 2 and 6, given to a solo bass and the entire tenor section respectively, which musically employ palindromic mirror-writing: in verse 2 the nervous, tremulous fear of the father is represented by an inflected, minor-key arabesque which is identical both forwards and backwards and is unsupported by ambiguous floating harmonies, whereas the triumphant hero’s return in verse 6 gives rise to an extroverted major-key scale passage: here the mirror version of the vocal line is inverted. The central verses 3, 4, and 5 vocally depict the dramatic action: long, loping phrases for the searching out of the foe in verse 3, followed by agitated semiquaver oscillations before the appearance of the whiffling and burbling Jabberwock in verse 4, which is duly dispatched by the heroic treble line in the next verse, ably abetted by the rhythmic hacking and galumphing of the underneath parts.

Verses 1 and 7 frame this little drama with Carroll’s best-known lines “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.” Verse 1, not surprisingly, consists of musical mirror-writing and is presented as a short, fast, self-contained overture, to be heard once backwards (exactly like the curious backwards poem that Alice finds in Looking-Glass Land) and once forwards. In Verse 7, the same motif initially heard in the soprano part becomes a reversible two-part canon at the distance of half a bar, while the altos and basses sing a slow, non-retrogradable accompaniment to finish the work in subdued and elegaic fashion.

External websites: Wikipedia article on the poem

Original text and translations

English.png English text

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.