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

‘The youthful Tom Coult scored a vibrant triumph with his Beautiful Caged Thing…it was music of opulent but disciplined allure that promised much for the future. In fact, it made for one of those classic first encounters that feels as if one is in at the beginning of something truly significant. Time will tell, but I’m hopeful.’

Michael White, Catholic Herald

‘Tom Coult’s Beautiful Caged Thing, a festival commission getting its first performance, was full of striking effects, too. The texts of the three songs are Coult’s own, assembled out of fragments from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray to provide a surreal platform for music that can change mood and direction rapidly’

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

‘The twenty seven-year old composer demonstrated, in his satirical setting inspired by Oscar Wilde’s texts, a highly powerful musical language, which the audience lavished with enthusiastic applause’

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung



13 June 2015
Mahler Chamber Orchestra & Claire Booth (soprano), George Benjamin (cond.), Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings Hall, UK

World premiere


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