Legend of the Walled-in Woman / Légende de la femme emmurée

for vocal ensemble and mixed choir

The winning entry in the Young Composers category of the 2006 International Rostrum for Composers Competition, Legend of the Walled-in Woman memorializes an Albanian woman and a kind of (involuntary) sacrifice for the greater good, in this case the rather less earth-shattering matter of the survival of a castle in northern Albania which was built by three brothers to protect themselves from Roman and Greek invaders. According to the legend, their mother had a dream that, in order to prevent the castle from being mysteriously destroyed every night, one of them would have to offer his wife as a sacrifice. Two brothers warned their wives about the dream but the third did not; the next day she set off for the castle to bring them food, and there she was immured inside the foundations.

Like Passion and Resurrection, the work begins with an objet trouvé — in this case an Albanian folksong that is the source of the legend. Again, with its strange ululations and glissandi, its ornamentation and keening repetitions, the folksong is immediately established as an alien musical presence. Similarly, the story is told not as a straightforward narrative, but through ellipsis; the piece is not dramatic but contemplative. Its structure is simple: three times material from the original folksong (sung by a solo quintet at a distance) is followed by a setting of the same words for the full choir. The texture is characteristically sonorous, with multiple divisi; the harmony is tonal, invigorated by passing dissonances, the tessitura wide, as intertwined upper voices soar above more slow-moving deeply rooted lower parts. In an extended coda polyphony dissolves into homophony: tolling, incantatory chords create a static pulsation that underscores plaintive wisps of melody from one, then two solo sopranos, who intone (in English) an epitaph for the walled-in woman. Gradually tendrils of folksong are re-woven into the texture, their tonality finally reconciled with that of the choir, as the music recedes into silence.

— from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2011

The work quotes an ancient Albanian folk song that tells of a legend from ancient times of three brothers that built a fortress to protect themselves from Roman and Hellene invaders. The brothers worked during the day, but, during the night, the fortress was mysteriously ruined. One night, their mother had a dream — one of the brothers had to sacrifice his wife, and then the fortress would remain standing. None of the brothers wanted to sacrifice his beloved wife. They then agreed to let fate decide which of the wives would be chosen, and to not tell their wives anything about this dream. Every working day one of the wives came to them and brought food, and the brothers agreed to sacrifice the wife who brought food the next day. Only the youngest brother kept his promise — the two other brothers told their wives not to come to the fortress the next day. According to the legend, the wife of the youngest brother was sacrificed by being walled into the foundation of the fortress.

It is believed that this folk song comes from the time of the building of the fortress at Shkodra was built: Rozafa castle (Albanian: Kalaja e Rozafës) near the city of Shkodër, in northwestern Albania.

The music is based on unique colors of timbres that characterize southern Albanian folklore. At the beginning of the composition, they can be heard as direct quotations which later are transformed and dissolved into different musical images, compared and contrasted with the timeless and eternal.

In 2006 Légende de la femme emmurée won the Grand Prix in the Young Composers category the 53rd International Rostrum of Composers (IRC), organized by the International Music Council in cooperation with Radio France and with the financial support of UNESCO.

— English translation by Egils Kaljo

Read more
Latvian Radio Choir, with support of the Latvian State Culture Capital Foundation
Albanian legend, ‘Vendit tem’ by Martin Camaj (1925–1992), translated by Robert Elsie (1950)
Albanian, English
10 min 30 sec
Latvian Radio Choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava at Klangspuren Schwaz 2005 in Austria on 25 September 2005
979-0-706658-45-2 (MB0338)
Latvian Radio ChoirGlorious Hill
PolyphonyPassion and Resurrection & other choral works