Photo 51

For 2 Sopranos, Countertenor and Tenor
(2015) 6 minutes
Text by various

Programme note

Photo 51 by Cheryl Frances-Hoad

Written as part of Electric Voice Theatre's Minerva Scientifica project in collaboration with Professor Elizabeth Kuipers, Professor of Clinical Psychology at King's College London.

1. Rosalind fixed her steady eyes like X-rays

2. Rosy of course

3. Photo 51

4.The instant I saw the picture...

Rosalind fixed her steady eyes like X-rays

Drawing on Franklin's biography for inspiration, this piece takes its text from Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox. “Rosalind fixed her steady eyes like X-rays on the human specimen before her” is a quote from the book that describes what Rosalind was like in conversation. The quarter tone glissandi, glottal vibrato and quartet tone vibrato in this piece are inspired by the X-rays that Rosalind employed in the taking of Photo 51.

Rosy of course

This piece sets texts from Watson and Crick's The Double Helix (1968) and an article in Nature in 1953, also by the pair. The first lines “Rosy of course did not directly give us her data. For that matter no one at Kings realised they were in our hands” describes Watson and Crick's underhand acquiring of Rosalind's data, and the second section sets an excerpt from the article in which they published 'their' discoveries about DNA, which of course made no mention of Rosalind's work. The work is written for countertenor and tenor, in the characters of Watson and Crick. 

Photo 51

This piece sets the first two sentences of a paper by Wilkins, Stokes and Wilson published in Nature in 1953. 

“While the biological properties of Deoxyribonucleic acid suggest a molecular structure containing great complexity, X-ray diffractions studies described here show the basic molecular configuration has great simplicity”.

The contrary motion in the vocal parts is inspired by the image of Photo 51 - with the dots (indicating the double helix) going out in opposite directions, in 4 part symmetry. 

The instant I saw the picture...

This piece sets a quote from James Watson, detailing his reaction to first seeing Photo 51 (“The instant I saw the picture, my mouth feel open and my pulse began to race'). Musically it takes inspiration from Barber Shop quartets, due to the fact there were four singers, and because it approximated the musical styles of the time that Rosalind would have been working.

Glissandi are still ever present in this piece: I imagine them to function almost like a lens adjusting, with the resulting sharpening of an image.


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