Beautiful Caged Thing

i. I have known everything
ii. Monstrous marionettes
iii. I am tired of myself tonight

When first thinking about this song cycle, I knew I wanted to set the words of Oscar Wilde – to tap into the lightness, playfulness and sheer fleet-footed élan that burst from the seams of his finest work. I couldn’t find the right text however. A lot of his poetry was too restrictive and tight in rhyme and rhythm, and in tone seemed – for want of a better word – far more ‘Earnest’ than the plays. I therefore set about creating my own Wilde poetry by extracting sentences and phrases from his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and arranging them to form three poems.

The result, however, was not quite the ‘delicate bubble of fancy’ that I had initially intend, though it seemed right to make a piece out of. Although it has, on a sentence level, all the linguistic elegance of Wilde, in tone it is more surrealist, and in parts much darker. The first poem’s narrator reels off a series of facts and pieces of wisdom almost at random – the second poem depicts a scene between a capricious lady and a sleazy, manipulative man – and the final poem sees the now world-weary narrator wishing she could ‘be somebody else’.

Text by Tom Coult after Oscar Wilde

13 Jun 2015

World premiere

Claire Booth (soprano) & Mahler Chamber Orchestra, George Benjamin (cond.)

Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings Hall, UK


soprano & chamber orchestra: 2(II=bfl+picc).2.2(II=bcl).1.cbsn – – perc(1): 5 pitched gongs/mar/vib/pair of bongos/BD/tam-t/vibraslap – harp – strings (min.


12 mins




Commissioned by the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival

View Score Online

Orchestral, Vocal