Michael Hersch

Cortex and ankle

work 2016 (24 min)

“… The dead are tangled in heap,
Scooped up and in and left to rot.
Waves of them come up with a stink,
Agony in the gaping rhomboid mouths,
Some with bedroom slippers on their feet.
So many, how to identify them? …

Herded by radio signals, decrepit codes,
And closing now the hoop, above the business,
Killers converge, dull as dirt itself.”  – Christopher Middleton (1926-2015)

The British poet Christopher Middleton died in 2015. Middleton and I met at the American Academy in Berlin in 2001, just before the 11 September attacks in the U.S. Quickly we became friends, and with relative consistency over the last fifteen years I have engaged with his poetry in music. The largest of the pieces I wrote alongside his words was my fifty movement piano work of 2005, The Vanishing Pavilions. This piece companions fragments of Middleton’s poetry with various sections of the music. Until Middleton’s passing however, all the music I wrote which included his poetry, including the aforementioned, never set Middleton’s words to be sung or spoken. They always remained silent on the page. I always felt the impact of Middleton’s poetry was most acute in the mind’s ear and eye. This changed for me after he passed away last year, and for the first time I felt the strong desire to bring the texts out into the air so to speak.

While capable of an immense expressive range, including innocence and humor, I find Middleton’s poetry especially notable for its ability to convey landscapes of terror, grief, and resignation, but always doing so with unsentimental distance while simultaneously holding us close, often uncomfortably so.

cortex and ankle is an eleven movement work. In the first movement the voice remains silent. The soprano sings excerpts of Middleton’s poetry in nine of the remaining ten movements. The last movement, no. 11, however, she sings fragments from Middleton’s translation of Charles Mauron’s, Poem on Van Gogh.

Michael Hersch

  • 7 Dec 2016


  • 7 Dec 2016, Red Sofa Series, Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam
  • 29 April 2017, Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, Baltimore (US)

Michael Hersch

Widely considered among the most gifted composers of his generation, Michael Hersch’s work has been performed in the U.S. and abroad under conductors including Mariss Jansons, Alan Gilbert, Marin Alsop, Robert Spano, Carlos Kalmar, Yuri Temirkanov, Giancarlo Guerrero, and James DePreist; with the major orchestras of Cleveland, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Seattle, and Oregon, among others; and ensembles including the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Ensemble Klang, NUNC, the Kreutzer Quartet, and the Network for New Music Ensemble. He has written for such soloists as Thomas Hampson, Midori, Garrick Ohlsson, Béla Fleck, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, andShai Wosner.

Mr. Hersch came to international attention at age twentyfive, when he was awarded First Prize in the Concordia American Composers Awards. Later that year he became one of the youngest ever recipients of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. Mr. Hersch has also been the recipient of the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. He currently serves on the faculty of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Hersch, composer, at the studio of friend and collaborator, sculptor Chris Cairns

Works for Ensemble Klang

Ensemble Klang albums