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Kit Powell (b. 1937)

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1960)
Poem by Oscar Wilde

Nelson Wattie (bass), NZBC Symphony Orchestra/John Hopkins
Recorded by Radio New Zealand Concert
19 September 1962


Kit PowellReading Gaol

Powell’s Reading Gaol is based on the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde who wrote the poem in exile in France following his release from imprisonment in 1897. The previous year Charles Wooldridge, a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards was convicted of cutting the throat of his wife and duly executed at the age of 30. This had a profound effect on Wilde, inspiring the lines, “And all men kill the thing they love, By all let this be heard, Some do it with a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a kiss, The brave man with a sword.”

Kit Powell selects excerpts from the poem and uses them in this 10 minute work with five distinct sections.  Powell employs many low register textures with cellos, basses, bassoons and a trombone to highlight the tangible gloom and despair of the poem. He will then offset this with a lonely solo flute or clarinet adding a particular poignancy to the scene.