Badb (pronounced ‘badhv’ where ‘dh’ is a voiced fricative, as in ‘these’) was one of a trio of war-goddesses from Irish legend. She assumed variously the guises of a beautiful woman, an old hag, and a carrion crow. Her manifestation in the latter form was an omen of death. Before a battle she would appear in anticipation of the carnage, and as the battle took place, would flit around the heads of the warriors. Afterwards, she would feed on the corpses strewn across the fields. Like the other two battle-furies, Macha and the Mórrígan, Badb was both sinister and sexual; she prophesied the end of the world, the fall of the gods and an endless reign of chaos.
There are three distinct types of material in this piece, portraying the three juxtaposed personalities of Badb: the sinuous, seductive syrensong of sing-flute representing the mysterious, beautiful femme fatale who befriended the Irish warrior Cú Chulainn, then lured him to his death; the unearthly shrieks and battle-cries of the old hag, which were said to arouse fear and dread in the living; and the hideous crow, pecking at the flesh of the slain with bloodied maw.
Much of the piano’s harmonic structure is derived and interpolated from chords representing the crow in Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux, while the notes B, A and D feature prominently through the piece.
The piece is written for, and dedicated to, Bridget Anne Douglas and Rachel Thomson, both legends in their own rights.