choral | 1996



Year: 1996

Duration: 5'

Instrumentation: satb

Program Notes

Jabberwocky (1996; revised 2012)

The poem Jabberwocky first appeared in full in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), Lewis Carroll’s (1832-1898) sequel to Alice in Wonderland. Jabberwocky is noted in particular for its employment of invented words: the first stanza alone includes brillig, slithy, toves, gyre, gimble, wabe, mimsy, borogoves, mome, raths and outgrabe. This lexicon of ambiguous linguistic virtuosity makes little sense to Alice though Humpty Dumpty makes a valiant if eccentric effort at interpretation for her in Chapter VI; brillig is contrived to mean four o’ clock in the afternoon – the time when you begin ‘broiling’ things for dinner. Despite the strange vocabulary, the poem seems otherwise to make perfect sense as it adheres strictly to standard syntax and rhyming schemes.


In attempting to capture the shifting characterisation of the poem, the musical setting employs a wide range of choral textures including counterpoint, homophonic block chords, and a type of recitative for the dialogue. Jabberwocky was commissioned with financial assistance from the Arts Council/An Comhairle Ealaion by Cantairí Avondale, conductor Mary O’ Flynn. It was first performed by them on May 4th 1996 at the Cork International Choral Festival.




‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.


“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”


He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought –

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.


And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood

And burbled as it came!


One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.


“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.


‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.


From Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872)

Lewis Carroll