Philip Venables

Numbers 81–85; Numbers 96–100

My relationship with Numbers by Simon Howard began in 2011 when I worked with two poems from the book: numbers 76–80 and numbers 91–95.   Ever since, I had the intention to set more poems from the book, to gradually form a kind of loose ‘meta-piece’ of all 100 stanzas.  The 2011 settings mark the beginning of my explorations of spoken text within my work, and were pivotal pieces for me in that respect.  Ten years later, when the circumstances arose to be able to return to the book, I found that, having spent a decade working primarily with spoken text, I wanted to focus back on musical settings of text.  To remember, if you like, how to compose.  So these two pieces from numbers are just that — my attempt to get back to a more music-led setting of text, while retaining a strong relationship to the structures and ideas in Simon’s work, but hopefully refracted through a musical lens. 

numbers 81–85 is a series of five episodes, each quite different from the other.  In each episode I’ve tried to distill a feeling or action from the narrative of each stanza, and illustrate it in music.  In numbers 96–100 the fives stanzas are taken as a single form.  The form of text is mirrored through the fractured pronunciation of the words, the overall idea is of a collective meditation.

numbers 81–85 and numbers 96–100  were commissioned by the Festival d’Automne à Paris, Musica, festival international des musiques d’aujourd’hui de Strasbourg and lovemusic. The first performance was given by lovemusic with Grace Durham (mezzo-soprano) on 1st October 2021 at the Cité de la Musique et de la Danse in Strasbourg, as part of Musica, festival international des musiques d’aujourd’hui de Strasbourg, followed up by a performance at Espace Cardin in Paris on 26th October as part of the Festival d’Automne à Paris.


numbers 81–85: 10 minutes
numbers 96–100: 8 minutes


Mezzo-soprano or Soprano
Alto Flute
Clarinet in A
Projection (optional)

These pieces may be performed alongside numbers 76–80 and numbers 91–95 (both published by Ricordi), in which case they should be performed in sequential order.


...which seems to focus the composer’s intention to explore certain pathologies from which our societies suffer. He goes even further with Numbers 91-95, framed by Numbers 81-95 and Numbers 96-100. His music resonates/differs with the words of the poet Simon Howard, clattering forcefully in semantic explosions charged with meaning.” — DNA Magazine (machine translated from French)

“Grace Durham’s voice is invocative, mysterious, rebellious or nonchalant in the first block [Numbers 81–85], supported by highly refined instrumental textures. The block 96-100 is more homogeneous, inscribed in the very stretched temporality of a collective meditation. From cry to murmur, the powerful yet velvety voice of the English mezzo-soprano proceeds in snatches of phrases and silent spacing over the circular and bewitching movement of the instruments.” — Hémisphèreson (machine translated from French)

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