SOUR FLOWERS: Eight Piano Pieces in the Form of an Herbal was inspired by a visit to Kew Gardens in London. There the herb garden shows the medicinal and magical properties of the various plants. In my suite, the individual character pieces bear inscriptions taken from Banckes’ Herbal of 1525 as follows:
Artemisia (March)—This herb is called mugwort. The virtue of this herb is thus. If a man bear this herb about him, he shall not be weary of traveling.
Crocus (Nocturne)—This herb is called saffron. The virtue of this herb is thus. It will destroy all manner of abominations of man’s stomach, and will make a man to sleep.
Elena Campana (Waltz)—Elena Campana is called horseheal. The virtue of this herb is thus. If a man have wagging teeth, and he eat of this herb, they shall fasten again.
Herba Johannis (Benediction)—This is called St. John’s wort. The virtue of it is thus. If it be put in a man’s house, there shall come no wicked spirit therein.
Latuca Leporica (Tarantella)—This herb is called hare-thistle. If a hare eat of this herb in summer when he is mad, he shall be whole. Also, take this herb and lay it to a man’s side when he sleepeth, or else that he know not thereof, and it will heal him of the fevers.
Petrocilium (Arabesque)—This is called parsley. It comforteth the heart and the stomach.
Quinquefoil (Prelude)—Stamp it and drink the juice of it in ale, and it will cease the aching and gnawing of man or woman.
Rosemary (Valediction)—Put the leaves under the bed’s head, and thou shall be delivered of all evil dreaming. Also, put thereof in thy door or in thy house, and thou shall be without danger of adders and other venomous serpents.
SOUR FLOWERS was composed in 1979 and is dedicated to Todd Crow, who performed the premiere at Vassar College on September 19, 1979.