Having not lived near the Scottish countryside for many moons, I asked Sonia and Alice to nominate a plant for my composition. I’m so glad I asked them. They found me a species which is so exciting that it deserves its own three-act opera.
Sundew (Drosera) is found near bogs – an acidic habitat where mineral nutrition is limited. The plant supplements this deficiency by producing a sticky deposit in which insects are trapped – and slowly eaten! The flowering part is beautifully eyecatching, hence the deceptively pretty name; and you wouldn’t blame any insect for attaching itself to the plant’s tentacles, attracted by what looks like tasty beads of dew. But gradually the plant’s jaws close over the exhausted insect…
Sonia and Alice forwarded some wonderful short videos of this process, taken from the BBC’s incomparable Wildlife site . Viewing time-lapse photography in these extracts was the key to my composition. Each of the 36 bars of the music can be understood as a time-lapse study of Sundew’s nutrition-gathering behaviour. Often one instrument encloses and digests the music of the other. Occasionally one player tries to struggle free (in music the performers have rightly compared to the stabbing strings in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO). At other times both exist motionless, stuck to each other. In the final bars, a lucky insect (the violin) escapes from the goo and flies off into the ether.