Tom Williams
Like Oranges (1990)

Like Oranges (1990)

Commissioned by Nicola Walker Smith with funding from Yorkshire Arts Association.

As the songs move chronologically backwards stripping away the baggage of life, each song should express a different character.

The original score of Like Oranges was composed for mezzo soprano; however, there is now available a soprano score and CD, which is transposed up a minor 3rd and is available on request. The preview recordings, sung by Nicola Walker Smith, are at the original transposition. For the first song (Old Woman), as this is all speech recitation, there is no soprano version.

Original programme note:
Like Oranges consists of four songs depicting four portrayals of womanhood as a retrospective view. The first uses a ballad from ‘Le Testament’ by the French medieval poet Francois Villon where the ‘Lovely Amouress’ longs for youth again, for now, she is an embittered old woman regretting her loss of her youthful days; as she says ” Nothing a beggar now would thieve”. The following two texts are taken from the contemporary Welsh poet Penny Windsor: ‘and again last night’ reflects a lover’s former relationship recounting the good and bad times, while Like Oranges’ is her young, in love, loving, for she is like a fruit, “sweet and ripe”. Finaly two short stanzas are taken from the Chinese Book of odes written over 2000 years ago describing loss of virginity.

Song 1 – Old Woman: in old age The piece opens with an old woman giving bitter vent to her present condition, on this, the final fourth stage of her life. She is ‘full of rage’ and a ‘bag of bones’ with ‘nothing a beggar would thieve’. She stands hunched, unkempt, wrapped up against the cold – peasant-like The lighting is cold and subdued.


Text adapted from a ballade by Francois Villon

Song 2 – And Again: middle age The outer, peasant garments are stripped away She is elegant, refined, mature, erect, wearing a dress and jewellery (perhaps wedding ring) and her hair is back. Her moods and emotions are complex, multifarious. She could be preparing to go to a smart dinner party…


Words by Penny Windsor

Song 3 – Like Oranges: adolescence, childhood. She is virginal, wearing possibly a long white gown. She may brush her hair. At the end she kneels or sits child-like, but non-submissively, as she whispers the final lines.


Words by Penny Windsor

Song 4 – Dead Doe: young woman Her dress, shoes, finery, are removed and her hair down is down. She wears, perhaps,. a slip. She could lounge on a chaise longue. She luxuriates in her sexuality. Warm lighting.


These excerpts were taken from the 1991 recordings made at the University of Keele, Clockhouse Studios.

  1. Like Oranges World Premiere at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, St Pauls Hall, 23rd November 1990, Mezzo Soprano Nicola Walker Smith
  2. Feb. ’91 including RCM, London, MAC Theatre, Birmingham and Manchester RNCM
  3. Dec. ’91 London Purcell Room
  4. Oslo – Ultima ’91
  5. South Bank Centre, Purcell Room, Barcelona Festival May 92
  6. BBC Radio 3 broadcast 1992
  7. 2004 Dutch radio broadcast