Roger Marsh Composer

Cass 1971

A theatre piece for female voice, flute, jug and six men.

The title Cass refers to the Trojan priestess Cassandra, who was granted the gift of prophecy but cursed by Apollo that her prophecies would never be believed. She accurately foretold the death of Agamemnon, and this piece recreates the scene in Aeschylus’s play of that name where a group of elders reject her predictions.

The piece arose from a study I made, during my final undergraduate year, of the origins of  Greek tragedy, drawing chiefly on the writing of George Thompson (Aeschylus and Athens; a study in the social origins of drama).  I was taken with the idea of the ‘dithyramb’, a forerunner of the tragedy, a kind of static choral drama.  Another influence was my interest in Japanese Nō theatre, its slowness and use of non-linguistic vocal sounds, as well as the use of a single flute. The soloist’s vocal part is clearly influenced, also, by the stammerings of Cathy Berberian in Berio’s Visage (1960), a hugely influential piece which in my view has never lost its dramatic power, even if some of the electronics now sound primitive.

The piece is shockingly slow and silent.  I am amazed, looking back, that audiences managed to stay the course.  For the performers, rooted to the spot for 30 minutes, it was certainly a feat of endurance and of memory.  But it was certainly ‘different’.

The first performance in York, with Melody Lovelace as Cass, drew some fierce criticism from some of my peers, but others were excited by it, and soon afterwards the music theatre group Clap  was formed to revive and tour the piece.  Only once, at an education college in Birmingham, did we have to get through a performance despite a slightly inebriated audience whop could not contain their mirth……

Bernard Rands staged a production at the Cell Block theatre in Sydney Australia during a residency there in 1972.  In the build up to the show he wrote to me and Melody Lovelace describing the theatricalised programme which included his own Ballad 1 and Ballad 2, along with pieces by Cathy Berberian and other items.  Read his letter here.

Later, at Keele University, I staged the piece again, with Mandy Boe as Cass, and we also took it to Huddersfield.

The original cast, shown here, includes Steve Stanton and, pictured alone, Vic Hoyland! The soloist (Cass) is Melody Lovelace, and the flautist Brian Loan. The jug player was Randall Giles. The ‘jug’ is an old-fashioned ‘carboy’ (pictured) which my mother had acquired from somewhere. In Cass it is blown across the top, producing a soft, low, moaning pitch.



Opening pages of the score (Novello & Co Ltd)