Instrumentation: SATB plus clarinet, trumpet, cello, and piano (or piano only)
Text by: Edith Nesbit
Availability: Downloadable PDFs of full score, choir/piano score, and instrumental parts. Please purchase the number of copies necessary for your chorus.
Commissioned by the Astoria Choir
A Curious Incident with the Queen is based Edith Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet. Written in 1906, the novel concludes a trilogy chronicling the fantastical adventures of four siblings while their parents are abroad. In this book, the children find one half of a two-part amulet that promises to give them their greatest desire—the safe return of their parents—and they undertake a quest to find the second half. The amulet has the power to transport people through time, so the children travel to times and places where the second half of the amulet might be found. In the company of a wish-granting creature called the Psammead, the siblings visit a utopian future as well as past civilizations including Egypt, Atlantis, and Babylon. While in Babylon, one of the children reveals to its Queen that the Psammead grants wishes. She wishes to see the children’s country and is transported to London circa 1900, where the children show her the city.
This composition dramatizes a small scene from that tour, where the Queen sees the poor people of the city and mistakes them for slaves. The children naively respond that they are not slaves because they have “votes.” The interaction, while brief and of no particular consequence in the plot of the story, struck me as particularly relevant to contemporary circumstances.
I selected the text shortly after the American presidential election, seeing in Nesbit’s words an expression of both the disparity between the highest and lowest echelons of our economy and also the feeling of political powerlessness many people felt as a result of the election. To me, what seems like a fanciful, even humorous scene in fact brings up a number of serious issues. It calls to attention the question of how or even whether a society that condones economic oppression is any better than one that practices slavery. It also asks us to consider what it means to have a voice in government if it does not seem to make a difference in one’s quality of life. These profound undercurrents are what stayed with me after reading Nesbit’s story, and I hope that her words will make a similarly lasting impression on audiences hearing this piece.