‘The Waste Land is a miraculous mediator between the hermetic and the demotic. It is, curiously when one considers the polyglot learning it carries, essentially a popular poem, outgoing rather than ingrown, closer to Shakespeare than to Donne. It was Pound who said that music decays when it moves too far away from the dance, and poetry decays when it neglects to sing. The Waste Land sticks in one’s mind like a diverse recital performed by a voice of immense variety but essentially a single organ: it sings and goes on singing.’ Anthony Burgess
Burgess’s 1978 setting of TS Eliot’s poem is one of his finest chamber works. Its many musical styles and techniques complement the fragmentary and allusive Eliot text. Quotations from Stravinsky and Wagner in particular, as well as from popular songs of the 1910s and the First World War, are woven into an original and ambitious 35-minute work for six players: flute, oboe, cello, piano, soprano and narrator.
The ensemble Psappha gave the European premiere at the Burgess Foundation in February 2014, narrated by Jonathan Best and directed by Elaine Tyler-Hall. A further performance took place at the Charleston Festival in 2022, with music performed by the Britten Sinfonia and narration by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The score is in the collections at the Burgess Foundation in Manchester and can be viewed for research purposes by arrangement with our archivist.