Crann, a Symphonic Hymn to the Tree


CRANN, Creation, Transformation and Innovation.
Some Notes on the Making of a Film-Work

The source and matrix of Margutte’s Albero Project (2016) is Richard Berengarten’s poem Tree (1981). This is a symphonic hymn to the arboreal in every register. Each of its three hundred and sixty-five lines is drawn from the tree’s sacred and central place in world mythology, history and religion.

Early in 2020, composer Nick Roth was invited by Liam Carson, director of Féile Litríochta Gaeilge (‘Festival of Literature in the Irish Language’) to create a musical setting of Berengarten’s poem, based on Gabriel Rosenstock’s Irish translation, Crann (2016). Given the pandemic situation, the decision was made to present this composition as a film-work.

In April 2020, Roth, based in Dublin, began a conversation with Berengarten, based in Cambridge. Both poet and composer report that a “richly associative, wide-ranging, invigorating and ever-deepening sense of resonance” occurred in this eight-month-long dialogue. During this time, Roth opened himself receptively to the poem’s themes and symbols and assembled the musical performers.

He remarks: “I believe that I was approached for this commission because of my prior work with trees and forest ecology in compositions like Woodland Heights and Little Woodland Heights. Both of these include the planting of a tree as part of the score. The original idea for CRANN was for a live performance at the IMRAM festival. However, when COVID-19 triggered the decision to change tack and adapt the work for film, I fully embraced this change, as it meant that the central gesture could be performed with finality – planted into the ground, rather than staged in a theatre. As the work evolved, two other rites emerged through our conversation with Richard – the making and breaking of the ceramic vessel, and the building and burning of the boat. All three rituals involve a weaving of elements and a transmutative aspect of transformation.”


So, gradually, Nick Roth’s work began to take shape, both as a musical score and a movie script. Here, the word work is deployed in both senses: labour and opus. What’s more, in the processual sense, work includes and even equals play, in at least three senses: playfulness, drama, and musicality. And this integrated combination of intensive exploration with what might well be called extensive imploration generated the brooding process that characterises all composition, all poesis, all cultural enterprise, all creation, all creativity.

So, slowly at first, and finally, very quickly, the composition was made. Directed by Laura Hilliard, and featuring singing performers Michelle O’Rourke, Caitríona O’Leary and Olesya Zdorovetska, CRANN was premièred in Dublin on the Winter Solstice, 21st December 2020, in two versions, with subtitles in both Irish and the original English. On 8th August 2021, the film was also performed at the Medellín International Festival of Poetry, Colombia, utilising the Spanish translation (Arból) by Clara Janés (1986) as subtitles. Crann is added to the Albero Project at the Winter Solstice 2021, on the first anniversary of its première.


The creation of this film-work, then – from, through and out of the poem – was a process in which meditation and meditation generated both mimesis and metamorphosis, intervolving all these processes in a constantly innovative, collaborative, dynamic dance. For Nick Roth’s CRANN is not just an aural, visual and tactile ‘rendering’ of Berengarten’s Tree that involves the mere translation of one genre into another, but a dynamically innovative transformation and transmutation of the poem into an authentically new and original entity, which stands in and on its own ground, in its own timespace, and affirms the presence of its own, independent being.

What is more, along with all the other entities inhabiting the Albero Project, CRANN both invokes and replicates the endlessly varied ways in which cultural patterns organically reiterate, elaborate, extend and renovate those of nature. For all works of both human science and art are equally processes and products – and ancestors and descendents – which in their turn are themselves transformative. That is to say: inheritors and articulators are also originary generative matrices of further processes.

After all, when we say that a tree stands for life, we mean many things at once: for every tree signifies, embodies, presents, represents, defends, supports, and perpetuates and celebrates life.


This version is added to The Albero Project on the first anniversary of its première.

Iomann siansach don chrann agus gach gné de is ea Tree de chuid Richard Berengarten, dán fada a tharraingíonn ar Chrann na Beatha sa Chabála, agus an t-ionad lárnach atá ag an gcrann i dtraidisiúin spioradálta ar fud an domhain. Tá Nick Roth tar éis an leagan Gaeilge de a rinne Gabriel Rosenstock a chur in oiriúint do chór guthanna leis na hamhránaithe Caitríona O’Leary, Michelle O’Rourke agus Olesya Zdorovetska.